Car carrier detained after going adrift near Columbia River entrance


A car carrier went adrift while approaching the Columbia River and was later detained for a week after the U.S. Coast Guard found safety deficiencies.

The 648-foot Morning Spruce experienced a problem with an engine turbocharger system Feb. 26 while still in the Pacific Ocean. The Singapore-flagged ship was powered down until repairs could be made.

Morning Spruce was carrying a full shipment of 5,340 automobiles, plus 543,000 gallons of heavy diesel and lube oil. The vessel went dead in the water 12 miles southwest of the river just before 1100.

“The master ordered a planned engine shutdown in open seas 15 miles off Columbia River in order to repair a malfunctioning main engine air-cooler unit,” the ship’s owner, Eukor Car Carriers, said in a statement.

When the Columbia River Bar Pilot arrived via helicopter at 1100, he found the ship drifting to the southwest at slightly more than a half-knot. The pilot notified Coast Guard Sector Columbia River. The captain of the port immediately issued an order directing the owner of Morning Spruce to contract with two tugs to hold the ship offshore.

For the next four and a half hours, the ship drifted southwest while the engine room crew worked to repair the fault. At approximately 1530, the ship’s engineer restored power. Due to inclement weather and for safety reasons, the Lloyd’s Register class society surveyor was not able to attend the vessel offshore. The Coast Guard directed the ship to remain offshore until the repairs to the air cooler serving one of the two turbochargers had been tested and proved successful.

The master, pilot and chief engineer decided to run the ship for half an hour at full maneuvering speed of 12 knots, and test the steering and the ability to stop-start. When the trials were completed, they reported to the Coast Guard that the ship was fully functional. Permission was given to enter port with tug escort.

The 4,000-hp Sause Brothers offshore tug Kokua arrived alongside Morning Spruce at approximately 1630, and the ship set a course for the Columbia River entrance. Conditions were good and the bar was crossed without incident. When the ship reached Astoria, Ore., 10 miles upstream, the Shaver Transportation ASD tug Vancouver took up station alongside as the second escort for the 90-mile transit to Portland, where the vehicles were offloaded.

“We are fortunate on two counts today,” said Capt. Bruce Jones, Coast Guard captain of the port for Sector Columbia River. “First, that the ship lost propulsion more than 10 miles offshore and drifted generally south rather than east toward shore, and second, that there happened to be an available tug of opportunity approaching Astoria at the time.”

The Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit (MSU) Portland’s Port State Control Branch conducted a full inspection dockside Feb 28. The survey revealed numerous safety issues including fire control boundaries, excessive oil in machinery spaces, soft patches on fire main piping and heavy hydraulic leaks. A captain-of-the-port order was issued detaining the vessel for serious deficiencies found under SOLAS and MARPOL until all the violations were corrected and verified through follow-up inspections by Lloyd’s Register and the Coast Guard.

Repairs were completed to the main engine by Columbia Metal Works of Vancouver, Wash. On March 5, the captain-of-the-port order was lifted after a Lloyd’s Classification Society audit and a series of thorough inspections by the MSU verified that all safety discrepancies had been corrected. Morning Spruce departed for British Columbia to load timber products for Kobe, Japan. The ship was built in 1981.

By Professional Mariner Staff