Bulk carrier seriously damages levee in Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta

After losing its steering, Tasman Resolution damaged a 150-foot section of the levee. Repair crews stabilized it with sand, silt and clay. The initial work cost about $760,000, but the total may end up exceeding $1 million. (Courtesy California Department of Water Resources/David Mraz)

A 570-foot bulk carrier ran aground and damaged a levee on California’s Bradford Island, endangering the drinking water supply for millions of people.

The Marshall Islands-flagged Tasman Resolution lost steering in the Aug. 27 incident in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the U.S. Coast Guard said. The ship was outbound in the river after taking on a cargo of rice, steel and lumber at the Port of Stockton.

The accident happened at 2030 in calm, clear weather, the Coast Guard said.

“The vessel was southbound (seaward) in the river and making a turn to starboard when it grounded within view of Light 34,†said Gary Johnson, investigative support specialist with Coast Guard Sector San Francisco.

Light 34, which is at the levee, defines one side of the channel and Light 35, toward the center of the river, marks the other. At this point, the navigable waterway is about 600 feet wide and about 50 feet deep. There is essentially no shoal along the levee.

When Tasman Resolution grounded, it temporarily lost steering and hit the levee. The ship is operated by Swire Shipping New Zealand, formerly Tasman Orient Lines. Its draft is about 33 feet.

A member of the San Francisco Bar Pilots was aboard the vessel at the time of the accident, said Capt. Patrick Moloney, executive director of the Board of Pilot Commissioners for the bays of San Francisco, San Pablo and Suisun.

A tugboat, Delta Captain, operated by Marine Express of Alameda, Calif., was in the vicinity. Troy Esch, a spokesman for Marine Express, said his company’s tug was running light when the ship struck the levee on the port bow.

Shortly after grounding, Tasman Resolution was able to back off the levee using its own power with the assistance of Delta Captain. Esch said the ship was off the levee in about 10 minutes.

Once free, Tasman Resolution proceeded to Anchorage Area 9 near New York Point with the tug as escort for bunkering and inspection by the Coast Guard. Moloney said that the ship stayed at the anchorage until morning, and the pilot was relieved. Once the Coast Guard ascertained that there was no damage to the ship, pollution or injuries, Tasman Resolution was permitted to continue outbound into Suisun Bay with a fresh pilot.

Coast Guard Station Rio Vista sent a 25-foot response boat to assist Contra Costa County marine units in enforcing a 200-yard safety zone and no-wake zone in the area of the damaged levee. Coast Guard Cutter Tern, an 87-foot patrol boat, assisted.

Bradford Island has eight or nine permanent residents. The grounding damaged about 150 feet of levee and put the low-lying 2,000-acre island community at risk of flooding. Bradford Island residents were not told of the accident until the next morning. Officials urged them to evacuate, but only one did.

The breach jeopardized drinking water quality for 23 million people, said David Mraz, a chief engineer with the Delta-Suisun Marsh Office of the state Department of Water Resources. Had the levee broken, salt water would have been drawn into the Delta and contaminated the region’s fresh water supply with salt, he said.

Mraz said that the levee has been buttressed and stabilized with sand, silt and clay from the island, but will need to be watched carefully as it settles. By October, the repair work cost approximately $760,000. Mraz anticipates it will exceed $1 million before it is done. Bradford Island, also known as Reclamation District No. 2059, is responsible for the repair work, but has received funds from the state. The district is seeking reimbursement from the ship’s insurance carrier.

Swire Shipping’s regional offices in Auckland, New Zealand, and Oakland, Calif., didn’t respond to phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.

The cause of the accident is under investigation by the Coast Guard and the Pilot Commissioners.

John Snyder

By Professional Mariner Staff