Captain Healey, Sector Commander and Port Captain in charge of the Coast Guard faclity in the North End, made a presentation at this week’s North End/Waterfront Residents’ Association (NEWRA) meeting regarding the safety and security of the Yemenese LNG tankers coming through Boston Harbor. “I cannot guarantee there will not be an incident, but we are taking the necessary security precautions,” said Captain Healey.
He noted that an LNG tanker has never caught fire although he mentioned that a liquid propane tanker was hit by a missile in the Iran/Iraq war. In that case, the ship caught fire but was salvaged. In order for the natural gas to burn, it would have to mix with oxygen first. The Captain quoted a study indicating that a mishap would not be likely to cause an explosion, but could cause a destructive fire.
In the case of a fire, the study identified an inner ring area around the tanker that could sustain substantial damage and an outer ring area that would see more modest damage. During transport, much of the North End/Waterfront is within the inner ring although less so when docked at the Everett terminal.
“It is hazardous cargo. We have all sorts of that in the port,” said Healey in describing the risks, noting that industrial accidents were possible with any cargo. The tankers are double-hull with 6 feet between the two hulls as a preventive measure.
LNG tankers come through the Harbor every 5-7 days, although this is the first time the cargo is sourced from Yemen, known as a terrorist haven. Other LNG shipments have been coming from Trinidad, Tobago and Egypt. The first LNG tanker from Yemen came through a few weeks ago with shipments expected 2 to 3 times per month.
Why Yemen? The U.S. State Department is providing incentives for the shipments because they want to encourage legitimate business in Yemen to support the current government in power there. The Captain said it was his decision to allow the Yemen LNG tankers once he came up with a security plan. Because it has no jurisdiction on foreign ships in foreign ports, the Coast Guard is using outside British contractors to provide security when the tankers are loaded in Yemen and on the high seas. When the tanker arrives outside of Boston, the U.S. Coast Guard does its own security checks. The company that owns the Everett facility pays for the City and State security resources, although the Coast Guard has to absorb its own expenses.
The Captain explained that unloading would ideally be done off-shore, similar to the two facilities already in place off the Massachusetts coast. However, off-shore unloading involves re-gasifying the LNG into pipelines. The Everett facility has storage tanks to hold the liquefied natural gas which are used for “peaking.” Peaking is the time storage needed for high demand periods. Apparently, there are no off-shore facilities with similar storage facilities in the region.
Due to the pressure from the U.S. State Department to do business with Yemen, it did not sound like a change was coming soon. The Captain advised residents to contact their elected representatives. The Everett facility provides 10-20% of the regions natural gas which would need to be replaced before the LNG shipments could stop. New technology in pipelines would be needed in order to unload off-shore.
One Harbor Towers resident said she sees the security during the transport, but wonders how the boats surrounding the tanker would stop an explosion that would come from a missle or explosion onboard.
In addition to the public safety concerns, I mentioned a quality of life issue regarding the loud noises from the helicopters and security announcements that wake up the neighborhood when the LNG tankers come through at 4:30 am. The Captain said he schedules them during the night because there is less population in the city than during the day.
In answer to a question, the Captain said that when the decision was made to allow in the Yemenese LNG tankers, there was no consideration of the loss of property value or decline in neighborhood quality of life.