Bollard holding five lines snaps, leading to Boston breakaway


Just after midnight on a blustery Boston morning, a crewman aboard Helsinki Bridge watched the containership’s bow swing slowly away from the terminal after a mooring bollard snapped. The ship continued drifting across the channel before hitting a vacant cruise ship pier and going adrift in the harbor.

Helsinki Bridge sustained $570,000 in damage in the incident, and two terminals required a combined $40,500 in repairs. No one on board was injured and no pollution was reported.

The 1,097-foot ship broke free from the Paul W. Conley Container Terminal at 0003 on Dec. 6, 2017. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators learned five mooring lines were secured around a single bollard rated for 40 tons.

The NTSB determined the incident stemmed from the failure of the Massachusetts Bay Port Authority (Massport) to provide sufficient berthing arrangements. Construction at the terminal blocked access to an additional bollard located forward of the ship’s bow.

The ship’s master contributed to the incident, the agency said in its report, by failing to address the sub-optimal mooring situation and forecasted high winds.

“If the berthing arrangement did not meet the master’s satisfaction, it was still his responsibility to take some mitigating action, especially considering the onset of roughly 40-knot winds forecasted during cargo operations,” the report said. “Such action could have included dropping an offshore anchor underfoot, bringing the bow thrusters online or calling for tug assistance.”

The broken bollard was rated for 40 tons.

Courtesy NTSB

Helsinki Bridge arrived at the Conley Container Terminal about midday on Dec. 5 after a short run from Newark, N.J. The master discussed the windy forecast with a docking pilot. The two agreed to use 14 mooring lines instead of the normal 12, with an extra line on the stern and bow. The plan called for five lines at the bow, two spring lines each from the bow and stern, and five stern lines.

Shoreside line handlers placed two head lines on the 40-ton bollard located ahead of the ship. Port officials would not allow two additional head lines on another bollard blocked by a temporary construction fence. As a result, line handlers placed those two lines around the single bollard, along with a fifth line added due to wind precautions.

This arrangement was unusual. Shoreline personnel couldn’t recall ever before placing five lines on one bollard, and the docking pilot told the NTSB he didn’t know five lines were tied to it.

“The chief mate also stated to investigators that typically they would not place more than three mooring lines on a single bollard but had to do so because of the ongoing construction at the terminal,” the report said. “He said that he had informed the master of the situation.”

Helsinki Bridge used 70-mm double-braided synthetic lines capable of withstanding 106 tons of force. They had been used since early 2012.

Strong winds gusting to 37 knots arrived later that night as cargo loading continued. Ten longshoremen and 24 crew were on the ship when the bollard failed at about 0003. Two spring lines parted soon afterward, and within minutes all seven remaining lines snapped.

A diagram from the NTSB report shows the approximate location and scale of Helsinki Bridge alongside the Conley Container Terminal, the vessel’s drift after it broke away, and the damaged pier at the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal.

Courtesy NTSB

Helsinki Bridge drifted to starboard in the wind. The vessel turned nearly 45 degrees before its bow struck the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal pier located across the 600-foot-wide Reserved Channel. The ship remained adrift in the harbor until 0029 when the master got control of the ship using the main engine and bow thruster. An assist tug arrived three minutes later.

The ship’s master was responsible for keeping the vessel securely moored, but Massport was responsible for providing a suitable area for mooring. This responsibility included making sure there were enough mooring bollards in appropriate places to secure the ship.

“Having known prior to the containership’s arrival the particulars of the vessel as well as the issues concerning the ongoing construction at the pier, Massport could have consulted with the vessel’s representatives and explored whether suitable or alternative mooring arrangements were necessary,” the report said.

Massport officials said they hadn’t seen the NTSB report until contacted by Professional Mariner. As such, they declined to comment on specifics. The agency stressed new policies had been implemented since the incident, such as a prohibition against placing five lead lines on a single bollard, and new internal guidelines for mooring in high wind conditions.

Massport also has installed new 175-ton T-head bollards at Berth 11, where Helsinki Bridge was moored, and plans to install three 175-ton bollards at Berth 12, Massport spokeswoman Jennifer Mehigan said.

“K” Line Ship Management of Singapore managed Helsinki Bridge at the time of the incident. The company, which has since changed its name to “K” Line Energy Ship Management, could not be reached for comment.

By Professional Mariner Staff