Explosion on board gas tanker

Gastanker-Brandskade1.2

An explosion on board the gas tanker Inge Kosan last year left the shipping company, Lauritzen Kosan, badly shaken. The accident was probably a combination of unfortunate and unforeseeable events – and now the shipping company is attaching great importance to telling about it so that nothing similar happens to others.

On 14 April 2015 the one thing that should never happen – and that no one could predict – happened. Today, safety is an even higher priority, if that was possible, for the shipping company Lauritzen Kosan. Moreover, the accident means that the shipping company is now telling of its experience, to the benefit of colleagues in the industry.

Inge Kosan was sailing in Malaysian waters and, as usual, there was surplus oil from the ship’s day-to-day operations which could be burned off in ship’s incinerator. In order to dispose of the more than 90 litres of oil, which is the maximum the incinerator can burn in a day, it had become the established practice to increase the temperature so that the water in the oil evaporated.

– This is the normal procedure on ships and not something that should be able to cause problems, explains Claus Jørgensen, who for barely two years has been HSSEQ Manager (Health Safety Security Environment and Quality) with Lauritzen Kosan.

However, on this day, a series of coincidences led to an explosion in the service tank for the incinerator, for which cost both those on board the ship and the shipping company paid a heavy price.

Magnetic meter may have been the problem
Claus Jørgensen subsequently investigated the accident together with the independent fire inspector.

– All security measures were complied with. Being a gas tanker, Inge Kosan is, of course, monitored by various international authorities to ensure that it complies with MARPOL, and we keep the mandatory oil record book, says Claus Jørgensen.

MARPOL is the international convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. In addition, the equipment had been properly maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

In terms of safety measures, there is a temperature meter and a low water level indicator in the incinerator, and it is possible that the temperature meter wasn’t working, explains Claus Jørgensen, before elaborating:

– Much of the oil we burn off is lubricating oil which often gets contaminated by small pieces of metal residue. The sensor for the low water level indicator is magnetic and it has simply attracted all the small pieces of metal in the waste oil so that it has become covered in them and malfunctioned. This could have resulted in low fluid levels in the tank without us realising it and when the water evaporated the bulk of the fluid was oil at a temperature of over 100 degrees, he explains.

The cause cannot be established
The fire inspector concluded that one of two things could have happened. One possibility is that some water could have accumulated within the system and, if the water ran back into the overheated oil as a result of the movements of the ship, this could have turned into vapour. Vapour expands by a factor of 1700, which could have caused the explosion.

The other possibility is that the heating element, which can reach temperatures of up to 600 degrees, became exposed and ignited the oil vapours that must have been present.

– Whether it was one or the other that happened, we don’t know. All we can see is that the tank has been blown about, so there must have been an explosion in there, says Claus Jørgensen.

A pane in an overflow window was blown out and the oil that was blown out was ignited so, all in all, the accident on Inge Kosan was an unfortunate coincidence of various accidents that no one could have predicted would happen.

Used CO2 extinguishing
Two people were injured in the accident.

– Unfortunately, one of our crew members suffered a burst eardrum and another suffered second-degree burns to his face, burns to his ankle and wrist and had his hair burnt off, Claus Jørgensen explains.

Furthermore, there was extensive soot damage in the chimney area while the incinerator, hot water tank, pipe systems and other systems in the vicinity of the fire were completely burnt out.

The crew on board the ship used the permanently installed fire extinguishing equipment and extinguished the fire with CO2.

– Extinguishing a fire with CO2 is simple and it doesn’t destroy anything. The permanent procedure was followed, i.e. first of all the fire was assessed: is it necessary to use CO2? Then, a head count was carried out so we were certain that everyone was out on deck, the engine room was closed securely and all ventilation was switched off. The chief engineer and first officer recommended the deployment of the CO2 and the captain then gave the order, relates Claus Jørgensen.

Meanwhile, the crew stood on deck and cooled the area down with water.

– An accident like this confirms our belief that you must give high priority to fire drills. We can’t call the fire brigade when we are in the middle of the ocean. So, practice, practice, practice – for example, what happens in a fire, evacuation, first aid etc. insists Claus Jørgensen.

Care of personnel
Claus Jørgensen flew immediately to Singapore to attend to the crew and inspect the damage along with the fire inspector and a crisis psychologist.

– It was a harrowing experience for the crew and they received crisis counselling afterwards. Some of the crew are Catholic so the shipping company arranged for a Catholic priest to come on board and bless the ship and the crew. He also had one-to-one talks with the employees. One of the Philippine crew members later told us that he was more afraid during this accident than he had been when he was being pursued by Somalian pirates, tells Claus Jørgensen.

The cost of the repairs amounted to around 700,000 US dollars in addition to the losses incurred due to the ship being out of operation for a month.

– As soon as the shipping company heard about the accident, all operations involving incinerators were halted on all ships. We need to make sure that this kind of incident cannot happen on any of our other ships, explains the HSSEQ Manager.

When Lauritzen Kosan’s ships were allowed to use their incinerators again, they were only permitted to burn solid materials.

– Even though we have replaced all the magnetic low water level indicators, we now know that the risk is there, says Claus Jørgensen.

Over the last six months, Lauritzen Kosan has attached great importance to telling about the accident, for example, via presentations at trade fairs and in the Danish Shipowners’ Association (Rederiforeningen).

– It is important that we share our knowledge with the rest of the industry so that others, who perhaps use the same incinerators, can have their equipment checked. An accident like this must never happen again, concludes Claus Jørgensen.

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About the accident – in brief:

  • On 14 April 2015 there was an explosion on board Inge Kosan followed by a fire in the engine room.
  • The explosion occurred in the service tank for the incinerator
  • The fire resulted in extremely high temperatures and the generation of thick smoke
  • Two crew members suffered minor injuries in the fire
  • A crew member had to be evacuated by smoke-helmeted firemen
  • The permanently installed fire extinguishing system (CO2) was deployed
  • The fire led to the ship being docked in Singapore for a whole month
  • The damage amounted to 700,000 US dollars

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