The authorities on Saturday continued to assess how to fight a fire that broke out two days ago aboard a cargo ship that is carrying nearly 2,000 tons of lithium-ion batteries and was ordered to remain off the Alaskan coast.
The U.S. Coast Guard said there were no injuries to the 19 crew members aboard the vessel, Genius Star XI, and that it remained seaworthy.
The exact cause of the fire was not known and remains under investigation. The Coast Guard was not immediately able to confirm who owns the vessel or say what other cargo it is carrying. The ship’s point of origin and destination were unavailable.
The fire broke out in cargo holds where lithium-ion batteries, which contain highly flammable materials, were being stored.
“These are very hot, very energetic fires,” said Richard Burke, a professor of naval architecture and marine engineering at the State University of New York Maritime College. Such fires can be long-lasting and difficult to put out, he added.
The Coast Guard ordered the vessel to remain two miles offshore from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, and officials established a one-mile safety zone around the vessel for the duration of the response effort.
A fire occurred in two separate cargo holds, said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Salerno, a spokesman for the 17th Coast Guard District, which covers 47,300 miles of shoreline throughout Alaska and the Arctic.
Firefighting systems on the vessel extinguished one of the fires. Members of the crew sealed off the other cargo hold and were taking temperature readings, which were normal as of Saturday, Commander Salerno said.
There were no signs of heat damage outside the cargo hold, and the authorities plan to monitor the temperature to see whether it continues to go down.
A team of marine firefighting experts who boarded the ship on Thursday to assess its condition found no signs of structural deformation or blistering outside the compartment, the Coast Guard said.
That the ship is still intact and afloat is good news for the environment, Professor Burke said.
These ships can carry hundreds of thousands of tons of cargo, such as silk blouses, beer, laptops and other commercial goods, which could potentially contaminate the ocean if the ship were to sink.
“The ship also has fuel,” he noted. “If you lose the ship, the fuel goes into the sea as well.”
While cargo ship fires are infrequent, they are not unheard-of, Professor Burke said.
In July, a cargo ship carrying nearly 3,000 cars off the Dutch island of Ameland in the North Sea caught fire, killing one crew member and injuring 22 others.
In 2022, a cargo ship carrying about 4,000 cars, including Porsches and Bentleys, caught fire 250 miles off the Azores and two weeks later ended up sinking.