Bulk ship grounds in Columbia River after steering fails

A 648-foot bulk carrier lost steering and ran aground in the Columbia River near Kalama, Wash.

The Hong Kong-flagged Pacific Flores had just departed Kalama with a partial load of steel coil. The ship was heading upriver for the anchorage at Vancouver, Wash., when it grounded at about 1330 on May 23.

The Columbia River pilot had set a course upstream for the Kalama Upper Range. David Halmagyi, the spokesman for the Columbia River Pilots, stated that the helmsman found that the rudder was locked on 15 degrees of port helm. He alerted the bridge team to the steering failure by calling out “no steering.†The pilot then ordered “hard to starboard.â€

When the rudder didn’t respond, the main engine was immediately put on full astern and the starboard anchor was let go. The ship slowed, but continued on its original course and exited the 600-foot-wide channel at the turn. It ran aground on the mud bottom a short distance from Kalama Marine Park.

The pilot notified the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Portland, which dispatched a boat. The Washington State Department of Ecology also responded. The ship was carrying about 600 tons of fuel oil, and all tanks were sounded by the crew. The initial damage assessment revealed no water ingress and no apparent pollution, so the pilot obtained permission from the Coast Guard to attempt to refloat the vessel.

With the assistance of the 75-foot Foss Maritime push-tug PJ Brix and a second tug, Pacific Flores was successfully refloated, watched by a crowd that had gathered in the park. A 25-foot Coast Guard response boat arrived as the tugs were moving the ship to the Kalama North Pier.

A dive survey confirmed there was no damage to the hull or breaching of any tanks. A full examination of the steering system was carried out, the manufacturers were consulted and all components were overhauled. Coast Guard Lt. Peter Raneri, a marine safety investigator at Sector Portland, confirmed that a class survey was performed by Lloyds, which was accepted by the Coast Guard as proof of seaworthiness. The exact cause of the steering failure was not available.

Pacific Flores is owned and operated by Swire Shipping, a division of The China Navigation Company Pte. The company declined to comment on the grounding.

Pacific Flores was allowed to proceed to Portland on May 29. The ship completed loading on June 8 and departed for sea on June 9.

The vessel was built in Finland in 1984 for Hoegh and launched as Hoegh Drake.

Peter J. Marsh

By Professional Mariner Staff