Chemical tanker strikes and sinks a tug moored at a grain pier

Federal safety officials are investigating what caused a chemical tanker to lose its steering and collide with a dock in the Lower Mississippi River, sinking a moored tugboat.

The Coast Guard said the tugboat Jeck sank after the tanker Stolt Perseverance struck it at a grain export terminal at Myrtle Grove, La. The three tugboat crewmen swam away and were rescued by another passing tug.

The accident happened on June 26 at about 0400. The 580-foot tanker, which was traveling downriver, drifted to starboard after losing its steering and struck the CHS Inc. grain dock.

“Stolt Perseverance experienced a steering loss of unknown cause,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Robert Reed said. “The tugboat was moored at the dock, and the collision sank the tugboat.”

No one was injured. The nearby tug Crosby Rambler arrived to rescue Jeck’s crew from the water.

The collision “also caused a cargo barge to break away,” Reed said. “The Crosby Rambler went after it and was able to retrieve it.”

The accident was at mile marker 61, about 35 miles south of New Orleans. The Coast Guard ordered an environmental response because Jeck was carrying an estimated 6,000 gallons of diesel fuel. About 3,000 gallons spilled, and a boom was set up to contain it, Reed said.

The river remained open to navigation, he said.

Lisa Graham-Peterson, a spokeswoman for CHS Grains, said the dock was closed for routine maintenance at the time of the accident. The loose barge was a construction-related barge that belonged to a contractor. The force of the collision damaged the dock, she said.

“The runaway tanker hit the southernmost (piling) where barges enter and are hooked up to a cable system that pulls them through the unloading process,” she said.

“Several sections of pilings were damaged, as well as a portion of the supports that cover the unloading station.”

The dock had been scheduled to reopen in early July. It was still undergoing accident-related repairs through mid-July, so grain-laden vessels had to be diverted to other facilities, Graham-Peterson said.

The Coast Guard said Stolt Perseverance was carrying an unspecified quantity of chemicals and petroleum products. The double-hulled tanker was built in 2001.

Reed said Stolt Perseverance sustained only minor damage: a “ding under the starboard anchor.”

The Coast Guard restricted operation of Stolt Perseverance and ordered the Cayman Islands-flagged tanker to remain at the CHS dock for inspection. The steering problem was repaired, and the ship continued its voyage to Europe two days later, Reed said.
Reed said the Coast Guard did not have a record of exactly what repair was made to the steering system. The ship’s owner, Stolt Nielsen SA, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Reed said the pilot, master and navigation bridge team aboard Stolt Perseverance passed drug and alcohol tests.
Reed said Jeck’s owner is Marion Towing, LLC in Marrero, La. Jeck was refloated, he said.

Crosby Tugs, LLC in Golden Meadow, La., owns Crosby Rambler.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is also investigating the incident, said Elizabeth Dodd, a Department of Labor spokeswoman. Dodd said the probe could take as long as six months.

Dom Yanchunas

By Professional Mariner Staff