Bulker breaks loose from its mooring

One of the most dramatic stories to emerge from the chaotic events surrounding Hurricane Katrina involved the efforts of the 107-foot tug Mariam Walmsley Cooper to bring under control the handysize bulk carrier Chios Beauty, which had broken loose from its mooring on the east bank of the Mississippi River in New Orleans.

The Greek-owned, Panamanian-flagged ship of 34,291 deadweight tons had been docked across the river from the base of the Crescent Towing fleet. Tied up next to Chios Beauty were two ships from the U.S. Ready Reserve Force, Cape Kennedy and Cape Knox.

When Katrina’s winds wrenched Chios Beauty from its mooring, it began drifting across the river toward Crescent Towing’s tugs tied up on the west bank of the river. Michael Domangue, captain of Mariam Walmsley Cooper, realized the threat and went into action.

“We caught that Chios Beauty in the middle of the river,” he said. “I’ll never forget that. I’m calling the wind 120 sustained and 140 to 150 gusts. About 5 a.m. she broke away and started drifting from the east bank toward the west bank, towards our fleet. I sounded the alarm, and we got her midstream.”

He managed to get the ship back to the east bank, but before long, the ship was heading back to the west bank. “I bailed out of there,” Domangue said, “and then I jumped on the inside of him to get him away from the fleet, and that wasn’t working, so then I pushed him up on the levee and held him in for 10 hours until the storm settled down.”

Two Crescent tugs, Virginia and Glenn Smith, were pinned between the ship and the levee. “I couldn’t see what was happening to the two tugs,” Domangue said.

The ship had shoved the tugs up onto the levee, where they formed an inverted V beside the company’s battered office barge, also squeezed against the levee by ship.

On the morning of Aug. 29, the ship was firmly aground. Now it was up to salvors to get the ship off. According to Paul Hankins, vice president of Donjon-Smit, the vessel’s salvors, Chios Beauty was in water ballast when it grounded and had to be pumped out. Once the vessel was lightered, salvors from Donjon-Smit refloated Chios Beauty with the assistance of two hired tugs from Sabine, Texas, Dolphin I and Dolphin III.

The stricken vessel was refloated by a combination of controlled bottom scouring from the tugs’ propeller wash and pulling by the tugs. Hankins said that to his knowledge Chios Beauty did not suffer any serious damage. Once afloat, a pilot boarded the vessel and took Chios Beauty to anchorage. At the time of the grounding 21 crewmembers and one passenger were aboard. There were no injuries.

Hankins said his company was fortunate to have been able to hire the two salvage tugs from Sabine. He added that the tugs came up the river in spite of its being closed, and faced the risk of floating debris and sniper fire from the shore.

By Professional Mariner Staff