The U.S. Coast Guard is trying to determine how a mooring line from a massive containership docked in Baltimore hooked a pickup truck and pulled it off a pier, nearly running over a dockworker.
The incident occurred at about 1930 on March 21 as the 984-foot MSC Ilona was about to leave the Port of Baltimore. Dockworkers were in the process of releasing a tangled mooring line when the pickup was inadvertently snagged, said Richard Scher, a spokesman for the Maryland Port Authority.
The port worker inside the Toyota truck escaped before it was pulled off the dock, Scher said. The worker, who was not identified, suffered minor injuries.
“In the early evening hours of Saturday, March 21, 2015, a truck at Pier 4 of the Seagirt Marine Terminal was pulled over the side of the pier and dangled from the bow of the MSC Ilona until it was removed,” said Lt. Stephanie Plummer of Coast Guard Sector Baltimore.
The Coast Guard would not provide additional details about the accident, citing the ongoing investigation.
Pickup trucks are commonly used while shore workers attach and detach mooring lines to the dock bollards. One step in the process involves momentarily connecting the line to the truck’s towing hitch and pulling a few feet forward.
“Large ships like this one require multiple heavy mooring lines to tie up,” Scher said. “It is not uncommon for a truck to drive on the pier parallel to the ship to secure the lines and pull to the nearest bollard when the ship is docking, and remove them when the ship is departing.”
It wasn’t clear if the ship crew visually confirmed the mooring line was clear before winching it back onto the ship.
Capt. John Traut, a docking pilot who heard chatter about the accident over the radio, arrived at the terminal about 90 seconds after the incident occurred. As he approached Ilona, he saw the white Toyota pickup hanging from the ship by its rear bumper.
Photos Traut took a few moments later showed the pickup half-submerged near the ship’s bulbous bow.
“As we came around the bow of the ship, I could see my friend standing over on the pier and he looked completely in shock,” Traut said.
The man was lucky to be alive. According to Traut, the worker felt the truck moving and rolled out of the pickup, narrowly avoiding the truck’s tires as the vehicle slowly moved over him.
“I think the situation is a real-world example of the need for constant vigilance in our industry,” Traut said.
The pickup hung by the mooring line until March 22. The truck was lowered onto a construction barge and the line was freed, Scher said. The vessel was not damaged. The truck was a total loss.
Ilona is a German-flagged container vessel built in 2001 and operated under charter by the Mediterranean Shipping Co. A company spokeswoman referred questions about the incident to the vessel’s owners, who could not be independently confirmed.