Containership crashes into Norfolk pier

The 960-foot container ship, Katsuragi, crashed bow first into a pier at Norfolk International Terminals after the ship was unable to complete a turn in time.

The bulbous bow of Katsuragi embedded itself under the wharf at a Norfolk terminal after the ship failed to make a turn. The collision caused $300,000 damage to the ship and $500,000 to the wharf.

The bulbous bow of the ship embedded itself under the pier, damaging the concrete and steel structure, causing about $300,000 in damage to its bow and about $500,000 to the pier.

The ship was attempting to dock port side to when it hit almost straight on, according to Jerry Crooks, chief of investigations with the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in Norfolk, Va.

Two tugs, Drum Point and Cape Henry, both of Moran Towing of Virginia, were helping Katsuragi, and a docking pilot was at the con.

The ship had just completed a hard turn to port as it moved from the main channel to the channel leading to the terminal. When the ship hit, it was trying to swing back to starboard to align itself with the wharf. But before the ship could complete the turn, it hit the dock. “They never really got themselves started to starboard,” Crooks said.

As the ship made its initial turn from the main channel to the approach channel, Cape Henry was positioned on the starboard beam, and Drum Point was at the port quarter. As the ship proceeded up the channel, it passed very close to red nun No. 4. The captain of Cape Henry reported that as his tug passed the buoy, it rolled down the side of his vessel.

The docking pilot and tugboat captain were concerned about hitting the channel marker. “They were focused on trying to avoid hitting the buoy. They were concerned about that buoy, no question,” Crooks said.

As the ship was passing red nun No. 4, the docking pilot released Drum Point from its position on the port quarter and instructed it to shift to the starboard quarter and get a line up. Cape Henry was to move forward to the starboard bow and get a line up there. With the two tugs pulling on their lines and the ship using its rudder, Katsuragi was supposed to slow and swing to the right.

Cape Henry got into position with a line. But Drum Point was unable to do so because the ship was too close to the edge of the channel, leaving no room for the tug.

As the ship approached the pier, the docking pilot issued two commands: half astern, full astern. The master then ordered crash astern. All of these orders came within 30 to 60 seconds before the ship struck the pier.

Crooks said the lack of the second tug may have hampered the docking. “It’s possible that with a second tug with a line, those commands might have been successful,” he said.

The distance from the beginning of the approach channel to the face of the wharf is 2,300 feet, or less than 2 1/2 ship lengths. Impact occurred at 1130, 11 minutes after the ship began its turn into the approach channel.

Excessive speed was apparently not an issue. The vessel’s speed as it approached the dock was estimated at 3 to 4 knots. That would be appropriate, according to Crooks, since the vessel would need to be moving at least 3 knots to maintain effective rudder control.

Investigators have been trying to rule out other possible contributors to the accident. “There was no mechanical failure on the tugs or the ship,” Crooks said.

The Coast Guard has not found any indications that fatigue, alcohol or drugs were factors, nor were there any license violations. The Coast Guard has decided not to take any action against the docking master. “There were enough mitigating factors,” Crooks said, primarily the inability of the tug to get into position on the starboard side.

The pier, which opened last fall, is the pride of the Virginia Port Authority. Its three Suez class container cranes are among the largest in the world, according to Linda Ford, the VPA’s director of port promotion. “The ship did not hit the cranes. That was the good news,” Ford said.

A small section of the pier was blocked off for repairs, but ships were still able to dock and the cranes could be positioned alongside to move containers on and off ships. The accident has not interrupted operations there, Ford said.

Katsuragi underwent $150,000 in temporary repairs and will need about the same amount in permanent repairs, Crooks said.

By Professional Mariner Staff