Explosion disables US-bound bulk carrier off coast of Oregon

Federal Iris

A Panama-flagged bulk carrier went adrift in the Pacific Ocean near Oregon after an explosion disabled its main engine.

The exhaust gas economizer aboard Federal Iris blew at about 1300 on Feb. 22, when the ship was about 120 miles west of Astoria, the U.S. Coast Guard said. The extent of the damage was not clear, although the blast affected piping and other engine components.

None of the 21 crew were injured, and a rescue tugboat towed the 655-foot ship into Seattle for repairs.

“There was an explosion in the economizer, machinery that scavenges engine exhaust to heat water entering the boilers,” Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Lindsey Neumann said. “The cause of the explosion is still being determined by the classification society and manufacturer’s technical representative.”

The Coast Guard is not investigating the incident because it occurred in international waters aboard a foreign-flagged ship. However, the service conducted a Port State Control exam once engine repairs were completed.

Federal Iris was sailing to Longview, Wash., from the Port of Changzhou, China, when the blast occurred. The ship was operating with limited propulsion for several hours before the incident, said Lt. Mary Morgan, an investigator with Coast Guard Sector Columbia River.

“About four hours before the explosion, they had reported water in the fuel and that was causing propulsion issues,” Morgan said in a recent interview. The ship’s ballast water treatment system also was not functioning.

It’s possible the issue with the exhaust gas economizer was related to other problems on board, Morgan said. However, she cautioned that other unknown factors also might have caused or contributed to the blast.

The explosion was quickly contained, but crew could not operate the main engine because exhaust gas was entering the engine room. Generators providing electrical power to the ship remained operational after the incident.

The 7,268-hp tugboat Denise Foss reached Federal Iris at 1300 on Feb. 23 and took the ship under tow. The vessels reached Seattle late on Feb. 24 and tied up alongside Terminal 5 a day later, the Coast Guard said.

About three weeks earlier, Denise Foss towed another ship, MOL Prestige, to Seattle after it went adrift off British Columbia following an engine fire. As of mid-March, the ship was still tied up in Seattle.

Federal Iris received Coast Guard approval to depart in early March after a surveyor from the classification society ClassNK and the Coast Guard signed off on engine repairs.

Montreal-based Fednav operates Federal Iris, which was delivered in 2016 by Imabari Shipbuilding in Japan and can hold more than 80,000 cubic meters of grain in five cargo holds. The company did not respond to an email message seeking comment on the incident.

It wasn’t clear if Panamanian authorities were conducting an investigation. The Panama Maritime Authority also did not respond to inquiries.

By Professional Mariner Staff