Coal barge grounds when master loses control in current

A coal-carrying barge that was being repositioned at a pier in the Detroit River was pushed aground by the current, with seven tugs required to free it two days later.

The 579-foot McKee Sons, a converted Great Lakes freighter, grounded on a shoal near Grosse Ile, Mich., at about 0315 on Dec. 24, 2010, the U.S. Coast Guard reported. The barge, which has a capacity of 29,500 tons, was hauling 11,900 tons of coal from Cleveland to Edison Pier.

Lt. Justin Westmiller of Coast Guard Sector Detroit said the vessel was being guided by Invincible, a 96-foot integrated tug, and two harbor tugs when it grounded in mud in about 8 feet of water. McKee Sons and Invincible are owned by Grand River Navigation Co. of Avon Lake, Ohio.

Tugboats finally are able to refloat the coal barge McKee Sons two days after it ran aground in the Detroit River. The vessel became stuck on Christmas Eve while a crew was repositioning it at a coal facility’s dock. (Madalyn Ruggiero photo)

“Basically the ship was being moved off the dock and repositioned so they could get in there better to unload their product,” Westmiller said. “As the ship came off the dock, they got caught up in the current and ran aground.”

Westmiller said the grounding occurred about 28 feet outside Trenton Channel, which is 800 yards wide at that point in the river. The current was approximately 3.5 knots, with winds gusting to 20 knots.

“The captain knew he was headed past the channel and was working to stop, but the current had caught him,” Westmiller said. “The current pushed (the barge) past; it didn’t drive past. The winds were a minor factor.”

Five tugs began trying to free McKee Sons on Christmas Eve day and were able to do so at about 2100, but the barge grounded again 20 minutes later as it was being moved toward the dock, Westmiller said.

Recovery efforts were suspended on Christmas Day because of a shortage of available personnel for the number of tugs needed, said Mark Rohn, president of Grand River Navigation.

“The ship was safe and secure, so we made a decision to wait until the day after Christmas to refloat it,” he said. “It was not a hazard to navigation.”

On Dec. 26, two more tugs were brought in to assist in the operation, and McKee Sons was refloated at about 1445, Westmiller said. It was moored at Edison Pier about 45 minutes later.

The barge was not damaged, and no pollution was reported. No equipment problems were reported aboard McKee Sons or Invincible before the grounding, Westmiller said.

Drug tests administered to two members of the 12-man crew aboard the tug and barge — the master and a mate on the bridge of Invincible — were negative, Westmiller said. The incident remains under investigation.

Rich Miller

By Professional Mariner Staff