Stolt Valor suffers explosion

The Navy reports that guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) and U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Baranof (WPB 1318) rescued 24 Filipino mariners in the Persian Gulf, early March 15.

At approximately 2 a.m., local time, John Paul Jones, assigned to Combined Maritime Forces' Commander, Task Force 152, responded to a distress call from the Liberian-flagged motor vessel Stolt Valor, operating within international waters 48 nautical miles southeast of Farsi Island, Iran.

Once on scene, John Paul Jones spotted one of two life rafts signaling with a small light and launched its rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) to investigate. They discovered 16 people in the first life raft and an additional eight mariners in the second life raft.

"We were ready to assist and we were fortunately in the position to help," said Cmdr. Jon Duffy, commanding officer, John Paul Jones.

Stolt Valor's master confirmed one crew member died during an explosion. The 24 rescued Filipino mariners were in good health and did not require medical assistance. They were provided food, water, and blankets.

"Coming to the aid of fellow mariners in trouble and conducting search and rescues at sea are critical skills that the Navy trains us to get right," said Duffy. "I couldn't be more proud of how our crews reacted from the initial distress call to when every survivor was safe on deck."

At approximately 7:30 a.m., the 24 survivors were transferred from John Paul Jones to Baranof for repatriation in Manama, Bahrain.

Stolt Valor is a chemical tanker carrying approximately 13,000 metric tons of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), which is used to increase oxygen content in gasoline throughout the U.S., to reduce carbon monoxide and ozone levels caused by auto emissions. MTBE is considered soluble, but not biodegradable.

Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) Battle Watch Officer reported the incident to the Marine Emergency Mutual Aid Center (MEMAC), which dispatched tugs with fire fighting capability to the scene.

U.S. 5th Fleet's Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS) contacted Stolt-Nielsen Limited to establish a line of communication between the military and the shipping company's crisis response team. The environmental impact is unknown at this time.

Stolt Nielsen issued a statement saying:

"Stolt Tankers B.V., a subsidiary of Stolt-Nielsen Limited and operators and owners of MT Stolt Valor, confirm that the vessel suffered an explosion on board whilst transiting the Persian Gulf.

"A Coalition warship is presently on site and is providing assistance. We understand that 24 of the 25 crewmembers are safe and on board the Coalition vessel. One crewmember is currently missing. Families of all the crew are being contacted as a matter of urgency.

"Stolt is working in close cooperation with the authorities on site in order to establish the whereabouts of our missing seafarer and the condition of the vessel."

March 15, 2012