MAIB publishes investigation report into ‘catastrophic’ explosion at Stolt Greenland in Korea
The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch has released its 2019 Explosion and Fire Investigation Report aboard the chemical tanker Stolt Greenland in Ulsan, South Korea.
Images of the explosion were captured on a video that went viral online.
On September 28, 2019, a cargo tank containing styrene monomer on board the Cayman Islands registered chemical tanker Stolt Greenland ruptured due to uncontrolled polymerization, a type of chemical reaction.
At the time of the accident, the tanker was moored next to a general cargo berth in Ulsan, and the Singapore-registered chemical tanker Bow Dalian was moored outside. The catastrophic rupture released a large amount of vapor into the atmosphere, which then ignited in a large fireball that reached the highway bridge above.
Both ships were damaged and two crew members sustained minor injuries. The firefighting efforts by the emergency services lasted more than six hours and involved more than 700 people and 117 units of fire engines, pumps and fire tugs. Fifteen rescuers were injured in the fight against the fire.
Video of the explosion:
MAIB previously issued an interim report indicating that the chemical reaction involving the ship’s styrene monomer cargo was the primary focus of the investigation. The interim report also alerted the chemical industry to the circumstances of the accident and requested information on previous accidents or similar incidents.
In the Stolt Greenland report, the MAIB revealed that a similar incident of hazardous styrene monomer polymerization had occurred a few weeks earlier on board another Stolt Tankers vessel, the Stolt Focus. In this case, the heat generated by the polymerization process was noticed before the critical runaway temperature was reached.
MAIB’s investigation found that the styrene monomer shipments on board the two tankers were loaded at the same time from the same tank in Houston and were exposed to similar environmental conditions.
Although the Stolt Focus incident was not reported to the vessel’s flag state, the Korean Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries has been made aware of the incident and has banned vessel-to-vessel transfer operations. of dangerous cargoes at the general cargo docks in Ulsan. The MAIB said Stolt Tankers had taken immediate action to ensure that the temperatures of all cargoes carried aboard its ships were monitored and reported to its management ashore, and that it had also taken steps to raise awareness. more the crew to the dangers of inhibited and heat sensitive cargoes.
Safety issues identified in MAIB’s investigation of Stolt Greenland included that styrene monomer was affected by other heated cargo tanks; heat transfer from other cargoes was not fully appreciated; and the temperature of the styrene monomer was not monitored.
MAIB did six recommendations as a result of the investigation:
- A recommendation (2021/122) was made to Stolt Tankers BV to ensure that the wider marine chemistry industry benefits from the lessons learned from the Stolt Focus incident and from the research initiatives carried out following this accident .
- The International Chamber of Shipping and INTERTANKO were recommended (2021/118 and 2021/119) to promulgate our report to their members.
- Recommendations (2021/117, 2021/120 and 2021/121) have also been made to the Cayman Island Shipping Registry, the Chemical Distribution Institute and Plastics Europe (Styrene Producers Association). These are intended to help ensure that the guidance provided in the certificates of handling guides for styrene inhibitors and monomers is consistent and achievable given the limitations of on-board ship testing equipment and facilities.
MAIB notes that the investigation was conducted on behalf of the Cayman Islands and that this is the first investigative report released by the agency under its Memorandum of Understanding with Red Ensign Group Catergory 1 records. Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar and the Island. de Man, under which MAIB agreed to conduct an investigation for very serious marine accidents involving vessels in these registers.
The full MAIB investigation report is available here.