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Chemical Tanker Explosion Sends Fireball Roaring Into Sky

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Chemical Tanker Explosion Sends Fireball Roaring Into Sky

A massive explosion aboard a chemical tanker blew a fireball and mushroom cloud into the sky over the weekend at the Port of Ulsan, South Korea. Local reports indicate that about 18 people were injured primarily from burns and smoke inhalation. One ship has likely been rendered inoperable and another has sustained heavy damage.

An explosion in one of the cargo tanks of the Stolt Groenland (IMO 9414072) took place at the Port of Ulsan, about 197 miles south east of the South Korean capital, Seoul, at 11:00 local time on Saturday, September 28. The ship subsequently caught fire and burned for another 18 hours until about 05:30 a.m. the following day.

The ship was moored at the Yeompo Quay on the Dong-gu (east side) of the Taehwa River next to the Ulsan Bridge. Amateur video recorded by motorists shows how the fireball exploded into the air.

This amateur video, recorded by an unknown motorist, shows the fireball erupting into the sky from the Stolt Groenland which is underneath the bridge. Watch the right side of the bridge tower in the upper left of the video.

Inspectors are due to board the vessel on the afternoon of Monday, September 30 to determine the cause and the extent of the damage. A South Korean representative of the tanker's operator, Stolt Nielsen (OSE: SNI), told FreightWaves that there appears to be extensive damage to the ship, which was flooded with seawater during the firefighting exercise.

"It probably can't be used again. It's probably a dead ship," FreightWaves was told.

The source also reported that the cargo tank that exploded was carrying a cargo of styrene monomer. It is usually manufactured into disposable packaging for food, beverages and consumer goods. The vapours of styrene monomer can ignite at 31 degrees Celsius (87.8 Fahrenheit) and both the liquid and its vapours are known to be flammable.

At the time of the explosion, about 25 people were working aboard the Groenland, according to the South Korean Yonhap News Agency, but all were rescued.

Graphic shows the location of Ulsan in South Korea. Inset: the red circle shows the location of the Stolt Groenland on the Taehwa River when one of its tanks exploded. Graphic: Google Maps and Jim Wilson, FreightWaves

A second chemical tanker, the Bow Dalian (IMO 9504205) was caught in the blast. The crew of the Bow Dalian were preparing for a transfer of cargo from the Groenland to the Bow Dalian. Operations had not begun when the Groenland's tank exploded.

The Bow Dalian was set on fire. However, the crew "reacted in a timely and correct manner: sprinkler and foam were released according to our procedures before the vessel was evacuated. The professional reaction has clearly mitigated the potential consequences to the crew and the vessel", reads a statement from the operator, Odfjell (OSE: ODF).

There were 21 crew onboard but they were evacuated.

The Bow Dalian is now "safely" moored at a lay-by berth at Ulsan. The company is preparing to board the vessel and assess the situation. A representative from Odfjell in South Korea told FreightWaves that the Bow Dalian is "very heavily damaged" on the deck on the starboard side.

An official statement from Odfjell reads: "We are deeply concerned about this accident and the consequences it may have on the local community, port operations and the environment. We are cooperating closely with all relevant authorities and resources to limit the consequences of this unfortunate incident."

Pictured: the Stolt Groenland, right with the yellow hull, sends a column of fire and toxic smoke skywards in Ulsan. The smaller vessel, left with the red hull, is the Bow Dalian. Photo: unknown amateur photographer.

FreightWaves understands from two separate sources that the Port of Ulsan is now working normally.

Approximately 18 people were injured during the incident either from burns or smoke inhalation, the Agency said, citing local authorities. However, it is not clear from local reporting exactly who was injured as the two main companies involved, Odfjell and Stolt-Nielsen have both reported that their crews were largely unharmed.

Chemical tankers can roughly be split into two categories. Firstly, there are single cargo tankers which carry one chemical cargo at a time. Secondly, there are "parcel" tankers which will have several different tanks each one configured to carry different types of chemicals so that the ship can haul multiple cargoes at the same time. Some tankers will be heated, others refrigerated and others will rotate (to prevent cargo settling). Some tanks will be stainless steel and others will have one of a variety of coatings. Parcel tankers are therefore very complex and very expensive ships.

Groenland and Stolt

The Groenland is operated by Stolt Tankers, part of the Stolt Nielsen group. The Groenland is a Cayman Islands flagged, parcel tanker used for the carriage of chemicals. The Groenland had about 20 different cargoes onboard at the time of the explosions, according to a representative of the ship operator.

According to ship tracking company Marine Traffic, the Groenland had a deadweight of 43,478 deadweight tonnes (dwt), which refers to the carrying capacity of an ocean-going ship as measured in metric tonnes. A metric tonne is equivalent to 2,204.6 U.S. pounds. The ship also has 25,881 gross tons (a gross ton is not a measure of weight; it is a measure of all the internal space in an ocean-going ship). The Groenland is 2009 built, with a length overall of 182.72 meters (600 feet) and a width of 32.24 meters (106 feet).

Stolt Nielsen is a major operator of ocean-going chemical tankers. It has a total of 155 tankers in its fleet. Including new buildings, the Stolt fleet has a capacity of just under 2.83 million deadweight. The company reported revenues of US$518.9 million and net profits of US$3.6 million in the second quarter of 2019.

Odfjell and the Bow Dalian

The Bow Dalian (IMO 9504205) is an Odfjell operated, Singapore-flagged, chemical tanker with 6,583 gross tons and a deadweight of 9,118 dwt. It has a length overall of 119.62 meters and a width of 18.59 meters.

Odfjell operates 77 chemical tankers and its fleet is a mix of wholly-owned, chartered, leased, bare boat and pooled ships. The company's fleet has a maximum deadweight of about 2.54 million dwt. Odfjell generated US$243.2 million of revenues in the second quarter of 2019, earnings before interest of US$14.4 million and a net loss of US$10.1 million.

Image Sourced from Pixabay

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