(www.MaritimeCyprus.com) On 28 September 2019, a cargo tank containing styrene monomer on board the Cayman Islands registered chemical tanker Stolt Groenland ruptured causing an explosion and fire.
The tanker was moored alongside a general cargo berth in Ulsan, Republic of Korea and the Singapore registered chemical tanker Bow Dalian was moored outboard. The ignition of the styrene monomer vapour resulted in a fireball, which reached the road bridge above.
Both vessels were damaged, and two crew suffered minor injuries. Fifteen emergency responders were injured during the fire-fighting, which lasted for over 6 hours.
The rupture of the styrene monomer tank resulted from a runaway polymerisation that was initiated by elevated temperatures caused by heat transfer from other chemical cargoes. The elevated temperatures caused the inhibitor, added to prevent the chemical’s polymerisation during the voyage, to deplete more rapidly than expected. Although the styrene monomer had not been stowed directly adjacent to heated cargo, the potential for heat transfer through intermediate tanks was not fully appreciated or assessed.
Critical temperature limits had been reached before the vessel berthed under the road bridge in Ulsan. The tanker’s crew did not monitor the temperature of the styrene monomer during the voyage, and therefore were not aware of the increasingly dangerous situation.
A similar dangerous styrene monomer polymerisation incident had occurred a couple of weeks earlier on board another Stolt Tankers B.V. ship, Stolt Focus. The heat generated by the polymerisation process was noticed before the critical runaway temperature was reached. The styrene monomer cargoes on board both tankers was loaded at a similar time from the same tank in Houston and were exposed to similar environmental conditions. The incident on board Stolt Focus was not reported to the ship’s Flag State or other masters in the Stolt Tankers B.V. feet.
Damage and injuries
The fire was fought from the shore and from the water and lasted until early the following morning. The damage in way of Stolt Groenland’s cargo manifold and accommodation block was extensive. The following persons were injured: Stolt Groenland’s gangway watchkeeper, who was blown over the guardrails by the force of the explosion; a deck rating on board Bow Dalian; and, a number of shore workers, including firefighters and police during the emergency response.
Following the accident, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, Republic of Korea, prohibited ship-to-ship transfer operations for dangerous cargo on general cargo berths in Ulsan. Stolt Tankers B.V. took immediate action to ensure that the temperatures of all cargoes carried on board its ships were monitored and reported to its shore management. It also took steps to enhance crew awareness on the hazards of inhibited and heat sensitive cargoes. The company is developing technological and administrative initiatives to assist with the safe stowage and monitoring of heat sensitive cargoes.
A recommendation has been made to Stolt Tankers B.V. aimed at ensuring the wider marine chemical sector benefts from the lessons learned from the Stolt Focus incident and research initiatives that were carried out as a result of this accident. Recommendations have also been made to the Cayman Island Shipping Registry, the Chemical Distribution Institute and Plastics Europe (Styrene Producers Association). These are intended to assist in ensuring that the guidance provided in certificates of inhibitor and styrene monomer handling guides is consistent and achievable given the limitations of equipment and testing facilities on board ships.
Download the full investigation report issued by the UK MAIB below:
Watch below the relevant video: