MAIB releases investigation report into ‘catastrophic’ Stolt Greenland explosion in Korea


The British Marine Casualty Investigation Branch has published its investigative report on the 2019 explosion and fire aboard the chemical tanker Stolt Greenland in Ulsan, South Korea.

Footage of the explosion was captured on video which has gone viral online.

On September 28, 2019, a cargo tank containing styrene monomer aboard the Cayman Islands-registered chemical tanker Stolt Greenland ruptured due to runaway polymerization, an a-type chemical reaction.

At the time of the accident, the tanker was moored alongside a general cargo quay in Ulsan, and the Singapore-registered chemical tanker Bow Dalian was moored outside. The catastrophic rupture released a large amount of steam into the atmosphere, which then ignited in a large fireball that reached the road bridge above.

Both vessels were damaged and two crew members received minor injuries. Firefighting efforts by the emergency services lasted more than six hours and involved more than 700 people and 117 units of fire trucks, pumps and fire tugs. Fifteen rescuers were injured fighting the fire.

Video of the explosion:

The MAIB had previously released an interim report saying the chemical reaction involving the ship’s styrene monomer cargo was at the center of the investigation. The interim report also alerted the chemical tanker industry to the circumstances of the accident and requested information on previous accidents or similar incidents.

In the Stolt Greenland report, the MAIB disclosed that a similar hazardous styrene monomer polymerization incident had occurred a few weeks earlier aboard another Stolt Tankers vessel, Stolt Focus. In this case, the heat generated by the polymerization process was noticed before the critical runaway temperature was reached.

The MAIB 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 was notified of the incident and prohibited ship-to-ship transfer operations for dangerous goods at the general cargo docks in Ulsan. The MAIB said Stolt Tankers had taken immediate action to ensure that the temperatures of all cargo carried on board its vessels were monitored and reported to its management ashore, and that it had also taken steps to raise awareness. the crew to the dangers of inhibited and heat-sensitive cargoes.

Safety issues identified in the MAIB’s Stolt Greenland investigation 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.

The MAIB has made six recommendations following the investigation:

  • A recommendation (2021/122) has been issued to Stolt Tankers BV aimed at ensuring that the wider marine chemical sector benefits from the lessons learned from the Stolt Focus incident and the research initiatives that have been carried out as a result of this accident.
  • The International Chamber of Shipping and INTERTANKO have been recommended (2021/118 and 2021/119) to distribute 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 ensure that the guidance provided in the Styrene Monomer and Inhibitor Handling Guide certificates is consistent and achievable given the limitations of equipment and test facilities on board vessels.

The MAIB notes that the investigation was conducted on behalf of the Cayman Islands and that this is the first investigation report released by the agency under its memorandum of understanding with Red Ensign Group Catergory 1 registries. of Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar and the Island. de Man, under which the MAIB agreed to carry out an investigation into very serious maritime accidents involving ships registered in these registers.

The full MAIB survey report can be found here.


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