Fire disables U.S.-bound containership off California coast

Delphinus Fire
Delphinus Fire
Crews used a fixed CO2 system to extinguish the engine room fire aboard NYK Delphinus. Tugboats towed the stricken ship to the Port of Oakland.

The containership NYK Delphinus lost electrical power and propulsion after a fire damaged the engine room while it was operating off the California coast.

Crew reported the fire at about 0500 on May 14, when the 964-foot ship was about 50 miles west of Monterey. The fire left the vessel adrift in the Pacific Ocean for more than a day until assist tugboats arrived.

Baydelta Maritime’s tugboat Delta Deanna ultimately towed the Liberia-flagged containership to the Port of Oakland in a response that involved at least six other tugs at different points. The ship arrived at terminal berth 22 in Oakland during the evening on March 17.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, and the U.S. Coast Guard has not released details of its origin. Ship operator Ocean Network Express (ONE) said the fire started in the engine room but did not elaborate.

“Full investigations are ongoing in close cooperation with all relevant authorities,” ONE said in a May 20 statement to its cargo customers. “It is expected to take some time for further inspection and possible repairs before any cargo operations can be allowed to take place.”

None of the 24 crewmembers on board reported injuries, the Coast Guard said. It’s not clear how much damage the ship sustained or how long the fire burned. The incident did not result in pollution.

NYK Delphinus was awaiting an open berth at the Port of Oakland when the fire started, according to ONE. The ship’s last port call was in Vancouver, British Columbia. Crew used the ship’s fixed CO2 system to extinguish the fire, said Michael Gallagher, senior managing director of Witt O’Brien’s, which oversaw the incident command response.

Crew reported on May 15 that engine room temperatures were falling steadily and that smoke was no longer visible, the Coast Guard said in a news release. At that point, the master determined the fire was contained. By then the ship had drifted and was 80 miles southwest of Big Sur.

The fire appears to have damaged the ship’s generators or electrical plant. ONE said in a May 21 notice that refrigerated containers on the ship had no electricity “due to unavailability of power supply on board the vessel.”

Resolve Marine led the immediate response, including coordinating the rescue tow back to shore. Baydelta’s Delta Lindsey and Foss Maritime’s Jamie Ann and Sarah Avrick aimed fire monitors at the hull to cool the ship, the Coast Guard said.

The 6,778-hp Delta Deanna performed the tow while multiple other tugboats helped control the ship en route to Oakland. The tow got underway at about 1100 on May 16, moving northerly toward San Francisco Bay.

Delta Deanna, formerly chartered to Foss Maritime (which named it Caden Foss), came off charter in late 2020. Helmed by Baydelta Capt. Mike Peery, Delta Deanna used a three-part towing arrangement to pull NYK Delphinus to safety. It consisted of a soft line running through the ship’s bullnose linked to a shot of chain and 1,500 feet of towing wire.

“That tug, for us, was really the best equipped harbor tug in California (and) was the obvious choice to send out to do the primary towage,” Baydelta General Manager Shawn Bennett said. “And she did great.”

The 110-foot Delta Deanna has an electrically-driven Rapp double-drum towing winch on the stern and Rapp towing pins. It’s 10 feet longer and has a higher bow than the traditional Valor-class design favored by Baydelta and Foss. 

Crew aboard NYK Delphinus kept a careful watch on the soft line throughout the voyage. They greased it hourly to minimize friction and chafing that could threaten the connection. The voyage generally went smoothly and the ship reached Oakland before a batch of bad weather arrived, Bennett said.

The biggest challenge, he said, was keeping a vessel of that size with a significant sail area moving straight ahead. “That ship, especially with that much windage, has the potential to start to sail off on its own,” Bennett said.

He praised Peery for leading the voyage and successfully guiding the ship into San Francisco Bay. He also acknowledged excellent cooperation between the tugboat captains on the return voyage, and with the pilots once the ship approached San Francisco Bay.

Inspectors boarded the ship west of the Golden Gate Bridge to ensure the fire was out and the vessel was structurally sound.

Bennett said Jamie Ann, Sarah Avrick and Delta Lindsey got lines up on NYK Delphinus during the return voyage to stabilize the tow and keep the ship moving ahead in a straight line. More tugs arrived to help bring the ship into San Francisco Bay.

As of mid-June, NYK Delphinus was still at the Port of Oakland. ONE did not response to an inquiry from Professional Mariner about the fire or damage to the ship.

Attempts to reach Resolve Marine for comment on the overall response were not successful. However, Gallagher of Witt O’Brien’s said the effort went smoothly.

“Even in covid-restricted times it was a well-organized team, and I think the result was something everyone could be happy with,” he said.

By Professional Mariner Staff