Bulk carrier loses power, strikes North Carolina railroad bridge

An empty fertilizer ship lost engine power while changing berths in Morehead City, N.C., hitting a railroad trestle and causing an estimated $1 million in damage.

M/V Aurora, a 558-foot, 16,454-gross-ton vessel owned by PCS Barbados Shipping, of Aurora, N.C., drifted into trestles of the state-owned bridge at 1700 on June 5 while changing berths from Radio Island to the state owned port at Morehead City, according to the U.S. Coast Guard and company officials.

Roman Hryniszak, the Coast Guard investigator, said Aurora “lost propulsion due to pneumatic failure • The engine turned over, but wouldn’t start when (the ship was) ordered slow ahead.”

Aurora is powered by a single Kawasaki “slow speed marine diesel,” said Hryniszak, who reviewed the accident on video from state security cameras at the port. A pair of valves in the engine’s pneumatic system failed, he said. One was not working, and the other leaked air — causing loss of power.

The anchors were dropped, but the vessel hit the trestle as they came tight. The channel remained clear and port traffic was not affected. Tugs already assisting Aurora brought it back to the pier.

“There was no breach of the hull,” said Hryniszak, who said the faulty valves were repaired the day after the accident. He is looking into maintenance records of Aurora to see how recently the pneumatic system had been checked prior to the accident.

There were no injuries, and the accident did not cause any environmental damage, the Coast Guard said. The rail trestle is parallel to the heavily traveled state Route 70 highway.

The Coast Guard said it administered field sobriety tests to operators of Aurora at the scene and results were negative for alcohol.

No charges were filed in the incident. The North Carolina Attorney General’s office was in contact with PCS Barbados, a subsidiary of PotashCorp of Saskatchewan, Canada, in regard to insurance claims and the cost of repairing the trestle.

PCS Phosphate is the primary tenant of the port at Morehead City, and Aurora is a frequent user of state facilities there.

Damage to the vessel was limited to paint being scraped off the stern. The North Carolina Department of Transportation said divers were used to assess harm done to trestle pilings.

Brian Cullen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service at Morehead City said winds on the evening of the accident — a mostly cloudy day — were 20 to 25 mph with gusts up to 30 mph. The Coast Guard described water conditions as “flood tide.”

North Carolina began accepting contract bids to repair the bridge in late July, with work expected to be completed by late October. The Coast Guard investigation was not yet complete in mid-August.

Rafael Alvarez

By Professional Mariner Staff