Cargo Ship with Lithium-Ion Battery Fire Sails After Securing Cargo

Genius Star XI cargo ship
Genius Star XI departed Alaska after salvage teams secured the cargo (USCG)

Published Feb 14, 2024 3:42 PM by The Maritime Executive


Nearly eight weeks after first reporting a cargo fire aboard, the Genius Star XI (13,663 dwt) has finally resumed its voyage after securing its cargo and completing a Port state inspection. The U.S. Coast Guard reports the vessel was given clearance to depart Alaska and is now underway to its original destination in San Diego, California.

The general cargo ship registered in Panama and operated by Taiwan’s Wisdom Line is carrying large industrial lithium-ion batteries as cargo. On December 25, and again on December 28, the vessel reported that it had fires in its cargo holds which experts suspected were caused by dislodging and shifting the cargo during a rough Pacific crossing. The vessel departed Busan, South Korea on December 18 and was taking the circle route across the Pacific.

The crew was able to extinguish the first fire in the number one hold by using the vessel’s onboard CO2 fire suppression system. However, in the process, they drained the 153 CO2 bottles aboard. The crew was forced to use hoses and perimeter cooling when the second fire was discovered in the number two hold and that led the U.S. Coast Guard to instruct the vessel to change course for Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

“This was a unique and complicated operation under very challenging conditions,” said Capt. Christopher Culpepper, Federal On-Scene Coordinator. Salvage team members and experts were slowed in reaching the site due to severe weather conditions. 

However, by the time the vessel reached the anchorage thermal imaging showed the fires were out but there was still concern of a reflash if the holds were opened. The USCG reports that several experts were engaged to provide consultation on the risks and specialized operations required to deal with the potentially damaged lithium-ion battery cargo. Organized as a Technical Expert Advisory Group, the experts provided recommendations for operations as more was learned about the condition of the damaged cargo. A salvage firefighting team remained aboard the vessel throughout operations.  

After ensuring that the cargo holds had been vented and an air circulation system was installed, they finally permitted the Genius Star XI to move from an anchorage to the dock on January 30, a month after it arrived in Alaska. At the Unalaska Marine Center, the operations continued to further triage, characterize, and repackage damaged battery components in specialized overpack drums. 

No cargo was offloaded in Dutch Harbor, but instead, crews re-secured the shifted and damaged cargo. Crews also completed recharging and installing the onboard CO2 system and the vessel was inspected to meet all safety requirements and regulations. The ship had a clean inspection from the US Coast Guard with no deficiencies recorded.

“This was a particularly challenging operation given the remote location and winter conditions,” said Bernie Nowicki, State On-Scene Coordinator.

The vessel, according to its AIS signal, is now projected to reach San Diego on February 21. The USCG command reports that the Unified Command managing the incident has stood down and all response operations have been completed. However, the cause of the incident remains under investigation.