Baltimore probe includes potential contaminated fuel

  • Market: Oil products
  • 28/03/24

Federal authorities are examining whether the containership that crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, was burning contaminated marine fuel at the time of the incident.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it will collect a sample of the fuel on board the 116,851-dwt container vessel Dali as part of its investigation into why the ship lost power and hit the bridge support early on 26 March, taking down the span.

"That sample will be taken, and we will analyze the quality, any sort of contaminants, we will look at viscosity," NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy said this week. "That will be part of our investigation."

Shipboard power is generally generated by turbines connected to the same engines driving propulsion. There are a number of issues related to fuel that could have led to a loss of power on the ship, according to Wajdi Abdmessih, chief executive at Seahawk Services, a marine fuel testing company based in New Jersey.

The fuel on the ship could have been contaminated, as was the case last year when contaminated very low-sulphur fuel oil was found on a number of ships fueld through a Houston, Texas, bunkering operation, or it could have been a compatibility issue with the vessel's engine, where the fuel was not optimized for the equipment.

"If the vessel switches between different types of fuels, compatibility and stability issues could occur, which may cause a problem with the engine," Abdmessih said. "Unstable fuel could cause increased sludging and high sediment, which could clog the filter and cause fuel starvation and engine downturns."

Singapore-based Synergy Marine Group, which manages Dali, said it is taking part of this investigation but declined to comment possible causes of the accident, including possible fuel contamination.

The pilots on board the vessel lost control because of a loss of propulsion, according to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), which is assisting in the investigation because Dali was sailing under the Singapore flag.

An issue with the ship's propulsion and auxiliary machinery was discovered during its June 2023 inspection in San Antonio, Chile, according to Equasis, a vessel information database. The problem involved the vessel's gauges and thermometers, according to the data. Its most recent inspection was in September 2023, but there are no indications of issues from the inspection.

The vessel's next inspection was due in June 2024, the MPA said.


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