A Tanker Was Unloading Jet Fuel, Then Came the Explosion

Jet fuel explosion Anchorage

At 10:08 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, in Alaska’s Port of Alaska, a scorching seven-story pillar of soot and flames belched from the stack of the Hong Kong-flagged tanker Atlantic Lily, which was unloading jet fuel at Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants Terminal 1. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

It’s never a good thing when a tanker is unloading jet fuel and an explosion rocks the city.

But at 10:08 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 18, in the Port of Alaska in Anchorage, a scorching seven-story pillar of soot and flames belched from the stack of the Hong Kong-flagged Atlantic Lily, followed by a loud clap that echoed across Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants Terminal 1.

US Coast Guard Sector Anchorage Marine Inspector Chief Warrant Officer 4 Richard Greidanus told Coffee or Die Magazine the scene looked like a “big fireball.”

“People smelled the smoke throughout Anchorage,” he said.

jet fuel

Anchorage Fire Department personnel rushed to the Port of Alaska in Anchorage late Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, after a fireball and soot erupted from the Hong Kong-flagged tanker Atlantic Lily, which was unloading jet fuel at Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants Terminal 1. Port of Alaska photo courtesy of Jim Jager.

Port of Anchorage photo courtesy of Jim Jager.

The tanker was trying to deliver 300,000 barrels of Jet A-1 fuel for Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, according to Jim Jager, Port of Alaska’s facility security officer.

“We had a really big boom but it was basically, you know, when your car backfires,” he said. “It was that on a ship scale.”

Jager told Coffee or Die the smoke began blowing toward downtown Anchorage, about five blocks away, and that alarmed citizens. They called emergency dispatchers to report the scent of exhaust fumes or diesel oil.

The Anchorage Fire Department was on the scene five minutes later, followed by Coast Guard personnel, but Atlantic Lily’s crew were already battling the blaze.

“The crew did a good job,” Greidanus said. “They put the fire out, and notified who they needed to notify.”

jet fuel

US Coast Guard personnel from Port Security Unit 301 from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, draw down on a simulated attacker during a use of force training scenario at the Port of Alaska in Anchorage, Alaska, April 4, 2014. US Coast Guard photo.

US Coast Guard photo.

Jager said the port crew stood by the firefighters “just in case,” but they never needed to board the vessel.

The explosion shuttered fuel operations Friday evening at the adjacent Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants Terminal 2, but the incident caused no injuries, property damage, or pollution, Coast Guard officials said.

Coast Guard investigators determined that a mechanical glitch in the vessel’s auxiliary boiler caused an improper fuel-to-air mixture, igniting a buildup of soot in the exhaust stack, which created the flames and loud boom.

“All those unburned but evaporated fuel diesel in the stack is what caught fire,” Jager said.

jet fuel

South Korean midshipmen on board the combat support ship So Yan inspect their vessel after arriving at the Port of Alaska, Anchorage, on Nov. 4, 2021. US Air Force photo by Sheila deVera.

US Air Force photo by Sheila deVera.

When the crew restarted the boiler on Saturday, it triggered more sparks and some smoke, but by Sunday the ship was considered seaworthy.

It wasn’t the Coast Guard’s first encounter with Atlantic Lily. Built in 2008, the registered chemical carrier has been boarded by security personnel or inspected at least 17 times at 10 US ports, according to federal records.

The last Coast Guard inspection occurred on Oct. 7, 2022, in San Pedro, California, and the vessel is up to date on its safety management, chemical carrier fitness, cargo ship safety equipment, oil pollution prevention, International Safety Management Code compliance, international load line, and safety construction certifications.

On April 7, 2018, the Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Port Arthur, Texas, issued a safety letter of deviation to Atlantic Lily.

On Sept. 22, 2009, in Houston, Texas, Coast Guard investigators cited the vessel for a problem with its automatic radar-plotting aid device, which is designed to prevent groundings and collisions.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to reflect in captions that the explosion occurred at the Port of Alaska in Anchorage.

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Noelle is an award-winning journalist from Cincinnati, Ohio, who came to Coffee or Die Magazine following a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has strived to be a military journalist ever since her internships with the US Army Cadet Command in college. She worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military herself and served as a public affairs specialist attached to the 3rd Infantry Division. She deployed once to fill a role as a media analyst for the Special Operations Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve in Kuwait. She has a passion for sharing stories of heroes and people who are far more interesting than they think they are. She follows where the job takes her, but currently resides on the East Coast in Georgia.
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