The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Cargo ship decontaminated after fire

Foreign-flagged vessel delayed at container terminal


Photo courtesy USCG/ PO Shawn Eggert

Response crews constructed a temporary 30-foot by 100-foot decontamination and containment site Friday aboard the BBC Arizona. The cargo vessel caught fire while docked at the Valdez Container Terminal and must undergo extensive cleansing of leaked transformer oil.

The US Coast Guard has disputed last week’s report from the Valdez Fire Dept. that stated a large amount of oil-contaminated water had overflowed into the waters of Port Valdez when the crew of the BBC Arizona put out a fire that sprang up on the cargo vessel May 31, while unloading steel beams at the Valdez Container Dock.

According to Lt. Allie Ferko, the fire was put out by way of chemical fire-suppression by the ship’s crew, and no contamination has occurred in Valdez waters.

The vessel has been waylaid at the dock since the fire, which was ignited when leaking oil was exposed to sparks created by cutting torches used to free the beams from the vessel; the construction materials had been welded to the vessel for transport to Valdez.

During a post fire inspection by the Coast Guard “multiple containers aboard the BBC Arizona were leaking what appeared to be transformer oil,” Ferko said in a press release. “All leaking oil was contained on the deck of the ship and reportedly does not pose explosive or inhalation hazards.”

The transformer oil is being further tested for PCBs, which are banned in the US. The oil did not originate in the US, nor was it bound for a US port.

The bladders of transformer oil were not headed for a US port, according to Ferko.

Reports published in the Anchorage Daily news state that Emerald Services estimated that 16 metal containers held plastic bladders containing transformer oil and each could hold about 6,000 gallons. Not all leaked, and lab results indicated the samples contained no PCBs, a substance banned for use in U.S. transformer in 1979.

The vessel, which made its last port of call in port of call of Qinhuangdao, China, will not be allowed to leave Port Valdez until all leaks are repaired according to the Coast Guard.

The owner’s of the vessel, which is flagged in Antigua and Barbuda, hired spill response company Emerald Services Inc. to lead clean up and remediation efforts.

For its part, the Coast Guard called in its Pacific Strike Team (PST), stationed in Novato, Calif. to oversee cleanup operations.

The Coast Guard says it issued the vessel a notice of discrepancy for failing to report the leaky containers.

“The notice must be resolved in the vessel's flag state,” the Coast Guard said.

Over the past several days, crews, including longshoremen, began construction of a temporary 30-foot by 100-foot decontamination and containment site on the dock, and began “operations includes wrapping each container in plastic and lifting them off the ship and into the decontamination area. During weekend operations, response personnel were standing by with a vacuum truck and waterside response boats during off-loading.”

Port Valdez stevedores removed the remaining Alaska-bound cargo from the ship over the weekend officials said.

The Coast Guard reported Sunday that containers were to be opened, inspected, and cleaned by Emerald and that samples of oil “will continue to be field tested to positively rule out presence of PCBs. All testing to date indicates no presence of the hazardous substance sometimes associated with transformer oil. Vacuum trucks will then transfer oil cargo into temporary storage tanks or frac tanks.”

Tuesday morning it was still unclear exactly when the vessel would be cleared to leave the dock; the Commander of the Port, Cmdr. Benjamin Hawkins, has final say and must ensure the vessel meets all state and federal standards.

The unified command also includes City of Valdez officials.


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