Bulk carrier patched at sea after developing crack in hull

A bulk carrier made it safely back to port after a salvage crew managed to patch a 21.5-foot-long stress crack that developed in the ship’s hull as it was crossing the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Lake Carling was in the Cabot Straight, southwest of Newfoundland, when it began taking on water through a stress fracture that was later measured to be 21.5 feet long.

Lake Carling, with a crew of 19, was transporting 25,000 tons of iron ore from Sept-Isles, Quebec, to Trinidad, when the crack was discovered early on the morning of March 19. The crack quickly got worse, allowing water to flood the No. 4 hold.

At 0937 Atlantic time, the ship put out a distress call from the Cabot Strait, about 140 miles northwest of Sydney, Nova Scotia. Seas were running 10 feet and winds were 22 miles an hour as the ship made its way through patches of ice.

In response to the distress call, the Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, sent out a light icebreaker and had three helicopters standing by on land, according to Navy Lt. Pat Jessup, a spokeswoman for Maritime Forces Atlantic. A Hercules search-and-rescue plane dropped extra pumps and survival suits for the ship to retrieve.

Early on, rescue officials were quite concerned about Lake Carling’s situation. “The danger was that this vessel could snap in half and just disappear,” said Maj. Perry Kurzynski, officer-in-charge at the rescue center.

Two nonessential crewmembers were transferred from Lake Carling to the icebreaker George R. Pearkes, dispatched to assist the 17,464-grt bulk carrier.

The icebreaker escorted Lake Carling into the lee of the nearby Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Secunda Marine Services Ltd., a marine salvage company based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, sent a 10,000-hp salvage tug, Ryan Leet, with a repair crew and divers to help fix the leak. The Secunda tug reached the 591-foot-long bulker at 0853 on March 21. It took the Secunda crew 48 hours to complete a temporary repair of the leak.

“The hold was filling up; the pumps onboard couldn’t keep up with the water that was coming in,” said Don MacLeod, vice president and general counsel at Secunda.

The crack was on the ship’s port side, starting from the top of the double-bottom tanks in the No. 4 cargo hold and extending diagonally to the top of the ballast tank, according to Marine Controller Wendell Sperry at the rescue center. The No. 4 hold did not have any cargo.

When Ryan Leet arrived, Lake Carling’s No. 4 hold was filled up to the waterline. The Secunda team brought aboard several high-power pumps, pumped out the hold and placed a temporary patch over the leak on the inside of the ship’s hull. The leak was patched using a thick sheet of Neoprene covered with plywood, which was held in place with metal braces.

Ryan Leet escorted Lake Carling to Quebec City, arriving on March 28. There the stress fracture was found to be 21.5 feet long, according to Paul Drouin, senior investigator with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

The Lake Carling incident comes at a time when industry leaders are calling for stricter safety requirements for bulk carriers, which continue to sink at alarming rates despite efforts to improve safety.

Officials said it was too early to say what caused the stress crack. The vessel, built in 1992, was strengthened for heavy cargo and also had an ice belt, according to Fred Perkins, director of marine investigations for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

“As far as I know, it was loaded properly, but I haven’t got the hard information to say that was the case,” Perkins said.

Continued losses of bulk carriers have led to calls for stricter requirements in their construction and maintenance. In the 10-year period from 1991 to 2000, 134 bulk carriers have been lost and 740 crew have died, according to the 2001 Annual Review of the International Association of Dry Cargo Ship Owners (Intercargo).

In December 2001, the bulk carrier Christopher sank in a force-9 storm north of the Azores, resulting in the death of all 27 crew. The last transmission from the captain reported that the ship’s forward sections were flooded by heavy seas and that there was hatch-cover damage.

For at least the last 10 years, concerns have been raised about flooding of the forward holds of bulk carriers during heavy seas. Structural failure is a significant cause of bulk carrier losses, according to the Intercargo 2001 review, with many of the ships lost carrying heavy cargo. And industry experts say that dry-bulk carriers transporting iron ore make up a high percentage of lost carriers.

Efforts have been focused on strengthening these ships’ forward hatch covers and holds. A Dutch naval architect in January stated that bulk carriers do not have enough freeboard to prevent these ships from burying the bow in an oncoming sea. Ernst Vossnack, former chief naval architect for Nedlloyd, said that bulk carriers should have a raised forecastle. Another problem is damage to frames and bulkheads by handling equipment during cargo unloading.

On March 15, the International Association of Classification Societies Ltd. (ICAS) unveiled eight rules to improve the safety of bulk carriers. Three of these requirements were adopted and will take effect on Jan. 1, 2003. Owners will have to strengthen the transverse corrugated bulkhead between the No. 1 and No. 2 holds and also reinforce the double bottom of the No. 1 hold of ships at 10 years, rather than 15, according to ICAS.

ICAS also expanded its enhanced survey program of the hulls of bulk carriers between 10 and 15 years old. In addition, all new and existing vessels will have to install water-ingress detection and alarms in all cargo holds.

Five other requirements are still under development:

  • Installing improved bulwarks or breakwaters on carriers that lack a forecastle to protect forward hatches and foredeck fittings and a forecastle on new vessels.
  • Increasing the integrity of foredeck fittings to resist seawater penetration for new and existing vessels.
  • Strengthening the side shell of frames of existing carriers to meet standards that now only apply to new carriers.
  • Implementing hatch-cover requirements for the forward one-quarter section of existing carriers that are equivalent to the rules for new carriers.
  • Installing water-ingress detection and alarms in spaces forward of the cargo area.

    ICAS has assigned a team to complete the final five requirements by the end of September this year.

  • By Professional Mariner Staff