LNG carrier loses propulsion off Mass. in second incident of its type in 2008

The LNG tanker Matthew docking at the Distrigas LNG terminal in Everett, Mass., in 2004. Since renamed Suez Matthew, the ship lost power about 45 miles offshore as it was approaching the Boston area with a cargo of LNG for the Everett terminal.
(Courtesy Tractebel LNG)
A liquefied natural gas (LNG) carrier lost propulsion and went adrift off the Massachusetts coast in December. The cause was a malfunctioning control valve.

Suez Matthew, a 30-year-old LNG vessel, lost power and drifted just before midnight Dec. 27, 2008, about 45 miles east of Boston. The 920-foot tanker was inbound from Trinidad to the Distrigas LNG facility in Everett, Mass., carrying 31 crew and a full load of LNG.

This was the second incident involving power loss aboard an LNG carrier in New England waters in 2008. On Feb. 11, Catalunya Spirit, owned by Teekay LNG Partners of Vancouver, British Columbia, lost power and became disabled approximately 35 miles east of Chatham, Mass.

The crew of Suez Matthew was able to reactivate one of the ship’s two boilers at about 0330. The second boiler was brought online two hours later. Once the U.S. Coast Guard was satisfied that the boilers were functioning properly and propulsion was normal, the ship was escorted by tugs to an anchorage in Broad Sound, not far from the Distrigas LNG facility.

Suez Matthew moored at the LNG facility at around 1100 after the captain of the port lifted the detention order placed on the carrier when it lost power. By 2300, the captain of the port reviewed the final repair certification presented by Lloyd’s Register, the classification society and the ship’s owner, Hoegh Fleet Services of Norway. The tanker was then approved to re-enter international service.

The cause of the power loss was determined to be a malfunctioning control valve that had partially stuck in an open position, causing back pressure and subsequent failure of the turbo charger.

According to Coast Guard Petty Officer Lauren Jorgensen, the disabled tanker never presented a public safety risk. That sentiment was echoed by Carol Churchill, a spokesperson for Distrigas of Massachusetts.

“There was a comprehensive analysis of every system on board the ship as well as the crew’s procedures in response to the power loss," said Cmdr. William Kelly, the acting commander of Coast Guard Sector Boston, in charge of the response. “Hoegh Fleet Services and the master and crew were extremely proactive in addressing the problem and ensuring a safe outcome."

In the Catalunya Spirit incident, the vessel was taken in tow while repairs were made. Coast Guard technicians determined that a malfunctioning boiler feed pump, which supplies water to the main propulsion boilers, was the cause of Catalunya Spirit’s loss of power.

While neither power failure resulted in structural damage to the ships or created a risk to public safety and the environment, they have raised concerns among LNG’s critics. Massachusetts State Senator Anthony Galluccio, a Democrat from Cambridge, said incidents like these highlight the importance of having LNG facilities located offshore. He stressed the danger of having a volatile cargo adrift near a highly populated area like Boston.

By Professional Mariner Staff