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Thursday, July 22, 2021 

The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch has published a report into a fire onboard chemical tanker 'Stolt Groenland' in September 2019, in Ulsan, Korea, when a cargo tank containing styrene monomer ruptured due to runaway polymerisation.

The investigation was carried out on behalf of the Cayman Islands, where the vessel is registered, and is the first investigation report published under the MAIB's Memorandum of Understanding with the Red Ensign Group Category 1 registries of Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar and the Isle of Man.

Acatastrophic rupture released a large quantity of vapour to the atmosphere, and it subsequently ignited. Fire-fighting efforts by the emergency services took over six hours and involved more than 700 personnel and 117 units of fire trucks, pumps and fire tugs.

A number of safety Issues were identified, including:

  • the styrene monomer was affected by other heated cargo tanks
  • heat transfer from other cargoes was not fully appreciated
  • the styrene monomer temperature was not monitored.

A recommendation has been made to Stolt Tankers aimed at ensuring the wider marine chemical sector benefits from the lessons learned from a similar, slightly earlier incident involving chemical tanker Stolt Focus. In this case, the incident was not reported; had it been so, the Stolt Groenland incident might have been avoided. The industry is recommended to learn from the research initiatives that were carried out as a result of this accident.

The International Chamber of Shipping and Intertanko have been recommended to promulgate the MAIB report to their members. Recommendations have also been made to the Cayman Island Shipping Registry, the Chemical Distribution Institute and Plastics Europe (Styrene Producers Association). These are intended to assist in ensuring that the guidance provided in certificates of inhibitor and styrene monomer handling guides is consistent and achievable given the limitations of equipment and testing facilities on board ships.

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