Menino fights to keep Yemeni LNG tanker from entering Boston Harbor

While this week was time to celebrate for Mayor Thomas Menino, it was also a time to weigh in on some very serious matters of national security.

Menino continued his fight to keep a Yemeni LNG (liquified natural gas) tanker from entering Boston Harbor next month and passing only a couple of hundred yards from East Boston’s shore.

“We’re in extraordinary times that call for extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of our city,’’ Menino told the Boston Globe . “They cannot be coming into a harbor like Boston, where there is less than 50 feet between the tankers and residential areas.’’

Menino’s decision to try and halt the delivery of LNG from Yemen stemmed from the failed Christmas Day bombing of an airline traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit. The Nigerian man responsible allegedly trained in Yemen with a terror group with ties to Al Qaida.

Menino wants the Yemeni LNG tanker, headed for one of several LNG offloading terminals in Everett, to unload its potentially volatile cargo away from the city.

Following the September 11, terrorist attacks, Menino successfully stopped LNG tankers from entering Boston Harbor. Menino sued in federal court to keep the tankers from resuming their weekly voyages into the harbor, but the request was denied in 2001.

A study that was done in 2004 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cited research performed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor emeritus James Fay and contradicted two earlier reports used by the coast guard to justify the resumption of LNG ships through Boston Harbor in the aftermath of September 11.

Fay’s report titled, “Comparison of Hypothetical LNG and Fuel Fires on Water,” suggested that a terrorist strike against one of the LNG ships could spark a fireball in the immediate vicinity, as well as shoot off electromagnetic radiation that could burn people and ignite secondary fires within a half-mile radius of the explosion — this would include East Boston.

Julie Vitek, at that time spokeswoman for Distrigas, which owns several LNG storage facilities in Everett, defended the safety record of the ships while criticizing Fay’s report. “These ships are built extremely well,” Vitek said. “LNG tankers are more robust than regular fuel tankers; their safety record is impeccable.”

According to Vitek, Distrigas supplies the natural gas needs of over 20 percent of New England through the Everett LNG tanks.

Vitek noted that there has never been an instance of an explosion or a hull breach on an LNG tanker, and believes Fay’s study was based on faulty data.

“This report was based on the hypothetical assumption of all of the tanker’s gas being released at once,” Vitek said. “But we live in the real world, and that just wouldn’t happen.”

Vitek also noted that the author of the report is not an expert on the ship’s design or construction, while Lloyd’s Register of Shipping–whose report outlined a far less devastating scenario–is one of the pre-eminent shipping experts in the world.

“The Lloyds and Quest studies used reality-based scenarios to conduct their research, while Fay’s study was based on conjecture and hypothetical scenarios,” Vitek said.

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