Bulker breaks free of moorings, grounds after crew leaves stern lines unattended

The 602-foot Norwegian bulk carrier Spar Lyra grounded in the San Joaquin River after it broke free of its moorings at the Tesoro-Pittsburg Terminal pier in Pittsburg, Calif.

The accident occurred at about 1400 on April 11, as the ship was taking on a cargo of petroleum coke. The ship was being line-hauled along the wharf to realign it with a fixed loader at the terminal when it broke loose.

Capt. Marc Bayer, manager of West Coast shipping operations for Tesoro Refining and Marketing, gave this account of the sequence of events:

Spar Lyra was port side to at the wharf with its bow pointing downriver and its stern to the current. The crew was handling lines when one of them noticed that the gangway netting was still tied to one of the spring lines leading to the ship. In an effort to release the gangway from the spring line, the crew on the stern left their station and tried to cut the netting from the spring line. None of the crew had knives so they could not cut the netting and release the gangway.

One of the longshoremen handling lines on the dock cut the netting free, but by this time the stern of the ship had drifted away from the dock toward the middle of the river and out into the current. The stern lines were now free, leaving all of the strain on the spring and bow lines.

The crew slacked lines to ease the strain. A bollard and two pilings attached to the forward spring lines pulled away from the wharf, as the ship drifted toward mid channel. The bow lines remained attached to the wharf as the vessel drifted across the river, dropped anchor and grounded in soft mud.

Bayer said he used the San Francisco Marine Exchange’s AIS system to identify the closest tug, the Westar tug Orion, which was 30 minutes away in Antioch. He also contacted the San Francisco Bar Pilots and had a pilot dispatched to the ship along with the Bay Delta Maritime tractor tug Delta Linda and the Crowley Maritime tractor tug Resolute.

With the aid of Delta Linda and Resolute, Spar Lyra was refloated between 2000 and 2100 on the incoming tide. The ship returned to the Tesoro-Pittsburg Terminal, where the U.S. Coast Guard captain of the port ordered a hull inspection before the ship was allowed to move.

Poor underwater visibility prevented divers from carrying out the inspection at the pier. After a thorough internal inspection of the hull, the captain of the port allowed the vessel to move to General Anchorage No. 9 in San Francisco Bay, where the underwater visibility was better. The external hull inspection revealed no damage and the ship was permitted to depart.

The incident is still under investigation by the Coast Guard.

By Professional Mariner Staff