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Fire breaks out on board ship carrying lithium-ion batteries

Authorities continued Saturday to evaluate ways to fight a fire that broke out two days ago aboard a cargo ship carrying nearly 2,000 tons of lithium-ion batteries and was ordered to stay off the coast of Alaska.

The U.S. Coast Guard said none of the 19 crew members aboard the ship, Genius Star XI, were injured and that it remained seaworthy.

The exact cause of the fire is not known and is still under investigation. The Coast Guard was not immediately able to confirm who owns the vessel or what other cargo it is carrying. The ship’s point of origin and destination was not available.

The fire broke out in the cargo holds where lithium-ion batteries, which contain highly flammable materials, were stored.

“These are very hot, very energetic fires,” said Richard Burke, a professor of naval architecture and maritime engineering at the Maritime College of the State University of New York. Such fires can last a long time and be difficult to put out, he added.

The Coast Guard ordered the ship to stay two miles off the coast of Dutch Harbor, Alaska, and authorities established a one-mile safety zone around the vessel for the duration of the response effort.

A fire occurred in two separate cargo bays, said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Salerno, a spokesman for the Coast Guard’s 17th District, which covers 47,300 miles of shoreline across Alaska and the Arctic.

The ship’s firefighting systems extinguished one of the fires. Crew members cordoned off the other hold and were taking temperature measurements, which was normal Saturday, Commander Salerno said.

There are no signs of heat damage outside the cargo hold and officials plan to monitor the temperature to see if it continues to drop.

A team of maritime firefighting experts who boarded the ship Thursday to assess its condition found no signs of structural deformation or blistering outside the compartment, the coast guard said.

The fact 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 goods, 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 also ends up in the sea.”

Although cargo ship fires are rare, they are not uncommon, Professor Burke said.

In July, a cargo ship carrying nearly 3,000 cars off the Dutch North Sea island of Ameland caught fire, killing one crew member and injuring 22 others.

In 2022, a cargo ship carrying around 4,000 cars, including Porsches and Bentleys, caught fire 250 miles off the coast of the Azores and ultimately sank two weeks later.

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