Engine room fire disables MarAd ship, causes $1 million in damage

Alliance St. Louis

The U.S.-flagged cargo ship Alliance St. Louis lost propulsion and went adrift in the Gulf of Mexico after an electrical fire in the engine room.

The fire, reported at about 0330 on Jan. 16, occurred as the roll-on/roll-off vessel was roughly 150 miles south of Southwest Pass, La. None of the 20 crewmembers on board were hurt, and the ship’s cargo of military vehicles and equipment was not damaged.

However, the ship’s engine room and electrical system will require extensive repairs estimated at more than $1 million, according to Aaron Heniger, an inspector with Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Port Arthur (Texas).

“We don’t know how it started,” he said in a phone interview. “We’re working with the MAN B&W rep for the main engine to try and figure that out.”

The Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board are among the agencies investigating the incident.

The 656-foot Alliance St. Louis is one of 60 private ships in the U.S. Maritime Security Program (MSP) fleet overseen by the Maritime Administration (MarAd). These U.S.-flag vessels carry commercial cargo around the world but also transport goods as needed for the Department of Defense, according to MarAd.

Vessels currently enrolled in the MSP fleet can carry a combined 118,000 TEUs and have 666,800 barrels of tanker capacity. MarAd said the program also supports about 2,400 jobs on U.S. ships.

MarAd referred questions about the incident to Farrell Lines, which operates Alliance St. Louis. The company did not respond to requests for comment.

The ship was en route from Port Arthur to Jacksonville, Fla. Heniger said the Coast Guard inspected the vessel prior to its departure and oversaw a crew fire drill during its time on board. Crew reportedly performed the drill well.

When the fire started on board several days later, crew used the ship’s fixed CO2 system to extinguish it, Heniger said.

Authorities believe the damage was confined to the engine room, but that has not been confirmed. The fire was believed to be responsible for damaging the propulsion system and causing the ship to drift. The ship relied on emergency backup power for crew needs after the fire disrupted the electrical system.

The Coast Guard conducted a flyover and confirmed the fire was out while the cutter Brant was en route.

The Moran Towing tug Mariya Moran and barge Texas were in the Gulf sailing to Port Arthur when they heard Alliance St. Louis’ mayday call and diverted to its position. The articulated tug-barge, piloted by Capt. Mark Feltrop, stood by the disabled ro-ro for 27 hours until Brant arrived at 0600 on Jan. 17.

“We were happy to have been able to assist. We are pleased to learn that there were no injuries or pollution,” said Peter Keyes, Moran’s vice president of offshore operations.

The 15,000-hp tug Crosby Endeavor from Port Fourchon, La., arrived at the ship’s position at about 1045 on Jan. 17. Its crew established a towline and the vessels departed for Port Arthur with two additional tugboats positioned aft, Heniger said.

As of late January, the vessel remained at Port Arthur as the investigation continued. Damage to the electrical system rendered key dockside components inoperable, including mooring winches.

By Professional Mariner Staff