Bulk carrier runs aground at end of St. Lawrence Seaway season

A bulk carrier ran aground at the western end of the St. Lawrence Seaway on Christmas Day and was stranded for five days before being refloated by salvage crews.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Detachment in Massena, N.Y., was notified at 1630 that the 656-foot Orsula had grounded on a rock ledge about a half-mile west of Tibbetts Point. The ship was en route from Duluth, Minn., to Italy with more than 20,000 metric tons of wheat. The owner of the Marshall Islands-flagged vessel is Atlant Bulkers Corp. of Croatia.

Christopher Yaw, a spokesman for the Coast Guard’s Ninth District, said an initial survey by a local dive company revealed that most of Orsula’s hull was aground and that its propeller had sustained significant damage. The hull was not breached and no fuel leaks were reported.

Yaw said a lighted buoy that marks the shoal during the shipping season was removed Dec. 20 as part of Operation Fall Retrieve. According to the 2013 Coast Guard Light List, another seasonal buoy marks the channel near Tibbetts Point, but Yaw could not confirm if it had been removed when the grounding occurred. Visibility was 10 miles, with 10- to 15-knot winds and 5-foot seas.

“The last point of ATON (aid to navigation) in the immediate area is a light at Tibbetts Point,” he said, referring to the 69-foot white lighthouse there.

McKeil Marine Ltd. of Hamilton, Ontario, conducted the salvage operation, which involved lightering a portion of Orsula’s cargo to a barge. The lightering began at 1800 on Dec. 28 and was completed at 0630 on Dec. 29, the Coast Guard reported. The ship was refloated about 11 hours later.

Yaw said assessments conducted during the salvage showed that the propeller damage was less serious than initially reported. Orsula’s class society and the U.S. and Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway corporations cleared the ship to continue to Montreal, escorted by the tug Salvor. Orsula passed through the St. Lambert Lock on the afternoon of Jan. 1, marking the end of the seaway season.

Atlant Bulkers Corp. could not be reached for comment about the cause of the grounding. The incident remains under investigation by the Coast Guard. No pollution or injuries were reported.

By Professional Mariner Staff