Cargo ship departs Alaska after lithium-ion battery fire

(JUNEAU, Alaska) — The cargo ship Genius Star XI departed Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on Sunday en route its intended destination in San Diego, Calif. The vessel’s voyage was delayed for about eight weeks after it experienced a fire in its cargo holds, which included large industrial lithium-ion battery units.

The unified command managing the incident has stood down and all response operations have been completed. The vessel continued its voyage after it secured all cargo and completed a Coast Guard Port State Control inspection.

“This was a unique and complicated operation under very challenging conditions,” said Capt. Christopher Culpepper, federal on-scene coordinator. “The broad team of experts that were mobilized worked in a coordinated and professional fashion to accomplish the objectives and get the ship back underway to its intended destination port.”

U.S. Coast Guard photo

The initial fire aboard the vessel was reported Dec. 25, and a second fire was reported Dec. 28. After the report of the second fire, and with concurrence of the 17th Coast Guard District command center, the vessel’s master directed the vessel to Dutch Harbor for further assessment.

A unified command was established with the Coast Guard captain of the port as federal on-scene coordinator, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation as state on-scene coordinator, and Gallager Marine Systems as incident commander.

The vessel arrived, anchored and later moored at a pre-positioned mooring buoy in Broad Bay near Dutch Harbor.

The vessel’s owner activated its vessel response plan mobilizing incident management and salvage marine firefighting teams. Several experts were engaged from around the world to provide consultation on the risks and specialized operations required to deal with the potentially damaged lithium-ion battery cargo. A salvage firefighting team remained aboard the vessel throughout operations.

After several weeks, the vessel was brought along dockside at the Unalaska Marine Center where operations continued to further triage, characterize and repackage damaged battery components in specialized overpack drums. Crews then began to re-secure the shifted and damaged cargo. No cargo was offloaded in Dutch Harbor.

“This was a particularly challenging operation given the remote location and winter conditions,” said Bernie Nowicki, state on-scene coordinator. “I am grateful for the engagement and cooperation of the city of Unalaska and their port officials who assisted us throughout the operations.”

Community air monitoring was conducted during the incident with over 480,000 readings all showing normal atmospheric conditions. Crews completed recharging and installing the onboard CO2 system and the vessel was inspected to meet all safety requirements and regulations.

“I am proud of the team’s accomplishments during this very challenging operation,” said Chris Graff, incident commander. “We operated in high winds, rain and snow, working around dangerous cargo with no accidents or injuries, a true testament to the dedication, hard work, and commitment to safe work practices of all involved.”

The cause of the incident remains under investigation.

– U.S. Coast Guard

By Professional Mariner Staff