Kulluk Hearing Sheds Light on Fuel Problem

Under questioning by US Coast Guard officials, chief tug engineer Carl Broekhuis told a chilling story of engine failure that shut down the Aiviq’s four main engines within hours of each other.

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The Aiviq was about six days out from Dutch Harbor, where it had taken on fuel under the eye of inspectors. Although three samples of the fuel were taken – at the start, middle and end of the fuel load, there was no suspicion of anything amiss, until the late hours of Dec. 27, when one of the tug’s engines inexplicably went out.

Broekhuis told the Coast Guard panel that the fuel injectors on the engines quit, due to some kind of residue on the filters, eventually shutting down all four engines.

“Like I said I did find some of this jelly – like stuff, I guess you could say, and that was something new. I hadn’t seen it before. I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve actually seen injectors fail by water. You might lose one, I’ve never lost twenty.”

[USCG] “And are you certain as to what about the fuel caused the engines to shut down?”

” I’m not a scientist, but I’m telling you, that I believe that it was something that was introduced to the fuel, and additive of some sort or something. I truly believe that, because I’ve eliminated everything else. ”

Broekhuis said that at the time of the engine failures every effort was taken to inspect and investigate the various components of the tug’s engine system. Water in the fuel tanks or injectors was ruled out, as were faulty vents. Broekhuis said something appeared to be gumming up the fuel filters, and, in retrospect, a jelly like substance was found in the fuel tanks after the Aiviq reached Kodiak. Broekhuis testified that he didn’t learn about the gel until after the incident, and that he has not seen a report of what it could have been, although he suspects it was some kind of fuel additive. Coast Guard Commander Joshua McTaggart questioned Broekhuis further about the additive:

[USCG] “So any additives that would have been added to the fuel would have been from your supplier, correct?”

[Broekhuis] “That is correct.”

[USCG] “Perhaps you knew there was an additive added? Can you explain that?”

[Broekhuis ] “I found out after the fact. After the fact is when I found out that there was an additive in it.”

[USCG] “OK. Would you share that with us what information you might have?”

[Broekhuis] “Ah, I’m not sure what it was. I do know you know, it’s been discussed with a couple of different things, but, I mean I do know that there was some form of an additive in there. ”

[USCG] “Is there any further information you can give us regarding the name of the additive, the type of additive and anything along that line?”

[Broekhuis] “Not off the top of my head, no. I can’t give you exactly what was in it. No one’s ever told me what was in it.”

Attorneys for the Aiviq’s shipbuilders Edison Chouest, also questioned Broekhuis. One of them  told reporters later that the origin of the tug’s fuel is not known, nor is the component of the alleged additive.