Lithium-Ion Battery Fire Contained Aboard Bulker off Dutch Harbor

Aerial infrared image of Genius Star XI, Dec. 28 (USCG)
Aerial infrared image of Genius Star XI, Dec. 28 (USCG)

Published Dec 31, 2023 3:15 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Coast Guard reports that the battery fire aboard the bulker Genius Star XI has been extinguished and that the crew are safe, days after the blaze began.

The outcome was successful, but the fire illustrated the serious challenges inherent in fighting a cargo fire at sea, compounded by the unique risks of burning Li-Ion batteries. 

According to the Coast Guard, the small Handysize Genius Star was carrying no less than 800 tonnes of batteries in her holds on a voyage from Vietnam to California. On Dec. 25, as the vessel was under way in the North Pacific, the crew discovered a fire in the Number 1 cargo hold. They discharged the CO2 fixed firefighting system into the hold, following the typical response protocol.

A second fire was soon reported in the Number 2 hold, but the crew had already used up their CO2 supply. With limited options left, they applied boundary cooling with firehoses and kept the holds closed in an attempt to contain the blaze. 

The Coast Guard received the first report of the fire on December 28, when the Genius Star was about 200 nautical miles to the southwest of Dutch Harbor. Sector Alaska dispatched an HC-130 airplane from Air Station Kodiak and the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley to meet up with the cargo ship and assess the situation. The bulker was still under way under its own power, so the Coast Guard suggested that the ship divert to Dutch Harbor for assistance. 

Genius Star arrived off the coast of Dutch Harbor on December 29, and was directed to remain offshore while fire suppression and assessment operations were under way. A marine firefighting team from T&T Salvage boarded the vessel to assist, and they confirmed the safety of the 19 crewmembers. They assessed that the situation was stable, and there were no further indications of heat in the cargo holds.

Genius Star XI off Dutch Harbor, Dec. 30 (USCG)

“Informed by the findings of the Salvage and Marine Firefighting team, the Unified Command will direct the Genius Star XI to anchor in a place of refuge in Broad Bay, near Dutch Harbor, Alaska,” said Captain Chris Culpepper, Captain of the Port. "This protected anchorage has been pre-identified in the Area Contingency Plan and will allow the vessel to remain stable, minimizing risk of any re-flash of the fire as we continue our response.”

A one-mile safety zone is in effect around the ship, and salvors remain onboard to monitor the situation. If there are new signs of heat or other hazards, the Coast Guard will order Genius Star to get under way again and head back offshore.