The departure of the Panamax Star, the ill-fated coal ship that has been stuck at anchor here nine months in a legal dispute, was delayed again today by the danger of fire in the hold.

"The ship has experienced a potential problem with the temperature of the coal cargo," said Coast Guard Lt. John O'Brien. "It's been sitting a long time and they have hot spots."

Hot spots can be precursors to spontaneous combustion in coal cargoes, according to shipping experts. O'Brien said a marine firefighting firm from Texas had sent two specialists to check the problem, and the extent of danger should be known by Saturday.

"There is no immediate danger to the ship," said O'Brien, "and the Coast Guard is monitoring."

The hot spots were discovered during a predeparture check. The ship was to sail this week for her home port, Taiwan. She has lain at anchor off Annapolis since March 7, when she was "arrested" by U.S. marshals for nonpayment of debts.

The ship was sold at auction Oct. 26, paving the way for her crew of 24 Taiwanese and Burmese nationals to go home. Most have not left the ship since the arrest.