Explosion injures crewman, leaves boxship adrift in North Atlantic

One crewman was injured during a “severe” engine failure aboard a Danish containership that left the vessel adrift in the North Atlantic.

The 872-foot Laura Maersk reportedly had an explosion in the engine room June 4 at about 1430 while the ship was roughly 275 miles off Ocean City, Md. The crewmember suffered burns and other injuries deemed non-life-threatening, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Maersk attributed the incident to a “severe turbocharger breakdown” in the engine room. It caused a minor fire that the crew “promptly extinguished,” according to company spokesman Thomas Boyd.

“The cause of the turbocharger breakdown is unknown at this time,” he said. “There (was) no further damage to the vessel and all cargo is intact.”

Authorities in the United States likely will not investigate the engine problem or crewmember injury because the incident occurred on a foreign-flagged ship sailing in international waters, Coast Guard spokesman Ronald Hodges said.

The 4,258-TEU Laura Maersk was en route from Algeciras, Spain, to New York as part of its container service linking Europe and West Asia with Central America and South America. The incident disabled the ship and left it adrift for several days. The vessel’s auxiliary generators continued to provide electrical power.

The Donjon Marine tugboat Atlantic Enterprise reached Laura Maersk early in the week of June 7 to tow the ship to port. Boyd would not say exactly how long the ship drifted or when the 6,480-hp tug established the towline. Attempts to reach Donjon officials for comment on the tow were not successful.

Early on June 10, the vessels approached New York Harbor with a destination of Ambrose Anchorage, according to AIS information.

Given the ship’s distance from port when the incident occurred, rescuing Laura Maersk’s injured crewman required planning and coordination with the U.S. Navy. The Coast Guard dispatched an MH-60 helicopter and HC-130 Hercules plane from Air Station Elizabeth City in North Carolina to conduct the rescue. The helicopter refueled aboard USS Mahan, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, while en route to Laura Maersk. Authorities did not disclose the destroyer’s location or proximity to the disabled ship.
 
The Coast Guard helicopter reached Laura Maersk after sunrise on June 5. The helicopter hovered over the bridge and hoisted the injured man from the port-side bridge wing. The aircraft transported the crewman to a hospital in Norfolk, Va., and he has since been released. Authorities did not identify the mariner, the scope of the injuries suffered or his nationality.

Rescues far enough offshore that helicopters must refuel en route are relatively rare, according to Hodges. That said, there was a similar rescue in early May in the Atlantic when the chief officer aboard the Marshall Islands-flagged tanker Arctic Flounder reported signs of a stroke. The ship at that point was 400 miles from shore. Crews transported the man to the same Norfolk hospital.

“Without the assistance of (USS) Arleigh Burke, we would’ve had to wait for the ship to make it closer to shore, in a situation where time is of the essence and a person’s life is at stake,” said Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Robert Delano, command duty officer during the incident.

Although the Coast Guard is not investigating the incident aboard Laura Maersk, Boyd said the company would try to determine what happened.

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