By Mark Edward Nero
A fire that occurred aboard a containership not long after it left the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 46 last December was likely caused by an improperly installed fitting on a fuel line, according to a new report by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The fire broke out at around 5 a.m. local time on Dec. 8, 2015 in auxiliary engine room no. 1 on board the containership Gunde Maersk shortly after the vessel departed Terminal 46 in Seattle.
The fire was quickly extinguished by the vessel’s high-pressure water mist system, but as a result of the fire damage, the vessel lost propulsion and required tugboats to return to its berth.
Damage to the vessel was estimated at $380,000, but no environmental damage was reported, and none of the 23 crewmembers were injured during the incident.
After review, the National Transportation Safety Board on Nov. 3 released a report determining that the probable cause of the fire aboard the Gunde Maersk was an improperly installed fitting on a fuel line supplying a fuel injector pump for auxiliary engine no. 1.
The cause is believed to date back to Nov. 25, 2015 when the Gunde Maersk switched from using heavy fuel oil to ultra-low sulfur marine gas oil as it entered the North American waters en route to the Port of Long Beach.
Soon after the switch, the vessel’s auxiliary engines – three 4,667-horsepower eight-cylinder Caterpillar engines, each directly coupled to a ship’s electrical generator – began leaking fuel.
To repair the leaks, the crew of the Gunde Maersk replaced O-rings throughout each engine’s fuel system.
The Gunde Maersk departed Long Beach on Dec. 1 and arrived at Seattle’s Terminal 46 berth 37 on Dec. 7. At 5 a.m. on Dec. 8, the containership got under way from its berth en route to Busan, South Korea. A few minutes later, the fire broke out.
Investigators determined that the fire was caused by fuel leaking from a dislodged
1.5-inch-diameter O-ring in the fuel supply line. The source of ignition was most likely fuel spraying and flowing onto the exhaust side of the engine between the cylinder covers.
The NTSB’s full accident report can be read at http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Reports/MAB1624.pdf