Bulkers hit nearly head-on in Welland Canal accident that goes viral


Two bulk carriers preparing to meet in Ontario’s Welland Canal collided nearly head-on after one ship crossed into the other’s path. 

The upbound bulker Alanis and downbound bulker Florence Spirit collided July 11 at 1555 at canal mile 15 near Port Robinson. Videos of the slow-speed collision shared widely through social media appear to show Florence Spirit veering across the waterway into Alanis’ path. No one on either ship was injured and no pollution was reported from the incident. 

Alanis maintained her heading and Florence Spirit deviated from its path to cross in front of the Alanis path,” said Jean Aubry-Morin, vice president of external relations for the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp., the Canadian agency that manages the binational waterway with the United States. 

Transport Canada is overseeing the incident investigation, with assistance from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB). Transport Canada declined to comment on the possible cause, citing the ongoing investigation. 

The 453-foot Alanis, operated by dShip Carriers and registered in Antigua and Barbuda, was carrying wind turbine parts bound for Duluth, Minn. McKeil Marine operated the 447-foot Canada-flagged Florence Spirit, which was carrying coal bound for Quebec City. Neither company responded to inquiries about the collision.

Video recordings capturing the final moments leading up the crash appear to show Florence Spirit turning to port across the Welland Canal. The ship moved from east to west, cutting in front of Alanis sailing on the canal’s west side. Florence Spirit’s starboard bow bulwark made contact with Alanis’ starboard bow, near its anchor pocket. 

Florence Spirit drifted against the western edge of the canal after impact. Alanis came to a stop and then appeared to move sternward under its own power.

Key details about the incident were still unknown at press time. For instance, it’s not clear if the ships made any meeting arrangements before the collision, or whether either ship had mechanical or steering issues preceding the impact. 

Aubry-Morin described typical passages between ships in the area as routine. Skies were overcast but visibility was good. Both vessels also were operating within the canal’s prescribed speed limits, he said. Each vessels’ speed at impact was not available. 

The Welland Canal is almost 27 miles long, with eight locks from end to end. It provides a critical shipping link between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario within the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System. There are about 3,000 ship transits a year on the canal, and roughly 20 percent of those cases involve meetings between ships. The canal measures 310 feet across in most places. 

“It is a very routine maneuver to meet at that point,” Aubry-Morin said. “It is not an area that is unsafe by nature.” 

Canadian Seaway authorities, he added, have determined the collision was not caused by traffic management procedures. “It is purely a maneuver between two vessels passing each other,” he said.

Alanis continued traveling inbound to Wharf 12 in Port Colborne, at the southern end of the canal, for further inspection. Florence Spirit backed under its own power to Wharf 10, roughly one nautical mile from where the vessels collided. The incident caused a minor traffic disruption in the canal. 

Both ships sustained hull damage at the bow above the waterline, but details and estimated repair costs were not available.

By Professional Mariner Staff