Freighter drifts off Nantucket after fire damages propulsion system

A 437-foot freighter carrying steel between Sweden and Delaware drifted for several hours in heavy seas off Massachusetts after a fire damaged vital electrical and propulsion systems.

The Feb. 25 fire aboard Dintelborg was confined to the bridge and extinguished quickly by crewmembers, according to a Coast Guard press release. The ship was without power or communications in 16-foot seas and 20-knot winds roughly 70 miles from Cape Cod. The nine mariners aboard the ship were uninjured.

The cause of the fire aboard Dintelborg was not disclosed. The Dutch-flagged multipurpose container vessel is owned by Wagenborg Shipping BV, of the Netherlands.

U.S. Coast Guard aircraft responded to the ship's distress signal, which was detected at 0113 on Feb. 26 at the First District Command Center in Boston. Radio contact with the vessel was established at about 0300, when a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Cape Cod reached the ship.

The vessel's crew was able to communicate with the Coast Guard using hand-held radios.

"We weren't sure of the nature of distress until the helicopter arrived on scene," said Lt. Adam Schmid, from the First District Command Center.

Providence Steamboat Co., which is owned by McAllister Towing and Transportation, was contracted to tow the disabled vessel 160 nm into port at Providence, R.I.

Charles Cumming, general counsel for McAllister Towing, said in an e-mail that the vessel was carrying 8,000 metric tons of steel from Oxelösund, Sweden, to Wilmington, Del. He said the ship "encountered very heavy weather between Feb. 15 and 17 after leaving the English Channel, and had suffered a variety of damages."

"Information later received from the Coast Guard indicated that the fire was confined to the bridge, but the damage there required that the main engine and propeller be secured and emergency steering engaged," Cumming said.

Tugboat Rowan M. McAllister met Dintelborg at around 0130 on Feb. 27. At around 1000 the vessels were in transit to Providence. Weather delayed their arrival for nearly a day, but Dintelborg made berth in Providence at 2000 on March 1.

The Coast Guard will not investigate the fire because it occurred in international waters, said spokeswoman PA3 Connie L. Terrell. The Coast Guard offers to assist the flag state or class society, she said.

Cumming declined to comment on several aspects of the salvage.

"About all that I can say at this time is that the weather was bad on the way out to the ship and that the original COTP (Captain of the Port) order specified that the Rowan McAllister was to be met at the entrance to Narragansett Bay by other assist tugs," Cumming said.

Cees Horvers, general manager for Wagenborg Shipping, declined to comment on details surrounding the fire. "We are still waiting on the outcome of the technical guys' investigation," he said.

As of early April, Dintelborg had left the Port of Providence. It was undergoing repairs at the Promet Marine Services Corp. shipyard in Providence, said Promet spokesman Mike Cohen. He declined to elaborate.

Steve Curtis, facility manager at Port of Providence, said Dintelborg berthed there for about 20 days before being transported to Promet. Curtis declined to comment on the damage to the vessel. He said his crews helped off-load the ship's cargo.

By Professional Mariner Staff