Departing ship damages crane it had just delivered to Va. terminal

A crane on the deck of a Chinese freighter struck another crane on shore as the ship pulled away from a Virginia shipping terminal, damaging the crane on the pier and resulting in the vessel being seized by federal authorities.

The incident occurred Feb. 14 after the 800-foot Zhen Hua 24 delivered two new container cranes to the APM Terminals in Portsmouth. The Hong Kong-flagged ship, owned by Zhenhua Port Machinery Co. Ltd. (ZPMC) of Shanghai, was carrying four cranes when it arrived in port Feb. 8 after a 41-day journey from China.

As the ship maneuvered away from its berth, the boom of one of the two container cranes still on board the vessel clipped one of the new cranes on shore. That crane, standing 259 feet tall and weighing 1,650 tons, was knocked off its rails on the pier, blocking the berth.

Joe Harris, spokesman for the Virginia Port Authority, which leases the pier from APM, said the immediate concern after the accident was that the crane might topple and cause more damage.

"It was a very windy day," Harris said. "We had gusts up to 35 knots. One of the wheel bogeys had buckled under, so for all intents and purposes it had turned into a three-legged chair. We thought that the wind load on the crane was going to do it in, but fortunately they were able to get it stabilized."

On Feb. 18, APM, the Port Authority and its operations affiliate, Virginia International Terminals, filed suit against ZPMC for $14.6 million. The lawsuit alleges negligence and breach of contract by ZPMC, which manufactured the cranes and was under contract to install them. APM later filed another lawsuit related to the loss of business while the damaged crane blocked the berth.

The court immediately issued an arrest warrant for Zhen Hua 24, which was taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals Service as security for the damages.

With the ship still berthed at APM Terminals, an agreement was reached between ZPMC's insurer and the plaintiffs stating that the insurer would cover any damage related to the crane and berth. Zhen Hua 24 was allowed to sail for Colombia on March 6 to deliver the remaining two cranes on board.

"They posted bond, for lack of a better term," Harris said. "We needed some assurance that the company was going to make good. We needed surety. Basically the ship was held as collateral."

Harris said the damaged crane was put back on its tracks March 4 and was moved to the north end of the pier on March 6.

"They got the bogey temporarily reattached and were able to roll it down to the far end of the berth where they were at least able to get it out of the way to determine what the next step would be, whether they have to send it back to China or whether it can be repaired on the spot," he said. "We had some broken concrete, and the rail it was on was twisted up pretty good as well. The rail had to be repaired before the crane could be moved. The berth is now fully functional."

Harris said underwater assessments had to be conducted before the berth could be reopened. John Padgett, attorney for APM Terminals, estimated damage to the berth at less than $50,000.

"The berth had some cracks and stress related to the sheering effect caused by the crane," he said. "Yet, the inspections after the relocation of the crane reflect that the berthing area did not sustain significant damage."

Padgett said determining the extent of damage to the crane was "a complicated matter" that was still not resolved.

"The parties are still assessing various repairs that will ensure that the crane can operate efficiently and safely," he said. "Consequently, the damage has not been quantified. The repairs will involve the installation of new stiffeners and other support structures to ensure the integrity of the crane."

Patrick Brogan, a Norfolk maritime attorney representing ZPMC, could not be reached for comment on the lawsuits or for an estimate of possible damage aboard the ship.

A Coast Guard spokesman, said he could not provide information about the incident because the investigation had not been completed.

By Professional Mariner Staff