Diesel fuel spills after twisted I-beam pierces ro-ro ship’s hull

The U.S. Coast Guard is trying to determine how a steel fender beam twisted and punctured the hull of a roll-on, roll-off vessel, causing 6,500 gallons of diesel fuel to spill into the Savannah River, which forms most of the border between Georgia and South Carolina.

The port at Savannah, Ga., was closed for more than 24 hours following the March 21 accident. The 625-foot Liberty, owned by American Roll-on Roll-off Carrier LLC of Park Ridge, N.J., reported a hull puncture while departing the Ocean Terminal at approximately 1130.

“The vessel was getting underway and when it departed the pier, part of the fendering system, which is an I-beam, twisted and punctured the hull of the ship,†said Coast Guard Petty Officer Michael Rohland, one of the investigators in the incident. How the I-beam became twisted is still under investigation.

The spill of red-dye low-sulfur diesel came from the ship’s starboard fuel tank, which had a capacity of 65,000 gallons. The tank was drained after the accident. Some of the spill was captured by absorbent booms, Rohland said.

“The crew did a fantastic job of plugging the hole,†he said. “It was squirting out the side of the ship because of the pressure, and the chief engineer and another engineer took some dunnage and broke it up to plug the hole. It was about 95 percent stopped in about five minutes.â€

The ship was carrying a cargo of heavy equipment such as backhoes and bulldozers.

The only damage to the ship was the puncture — about 1 foot in diameter — and there was no other damage to the pier except for the fender.

The shipping company completed permanent repairs to the hull before the Coast Guard allowed the vessel to depart, Rohland said.

American Roll-on Roll-off spokesman Darrell Wilson declined to comment on the incident.

The Coast Guard, Georgia Ports Authority, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, National Park Service, O’Brien’s Response Management Group, Marine Spill Response Corp. and Crowley Maritime Corp. responded to the accident. Approximately 5,000 feet of boom was placed in the river to minimize the spread of diesel fuel. Additionally, 2,200 feet of absorbent boom and several skimmers were placed to recover as much fuel as possible.

A sheen was visible from the Talmadge Memorial Bridge to Fort Jackson, S.C. Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz said eight vessels were queued up to enter the port and five were ready to leave when the river reopened.

Bill Bleyer

By Professional Mariner Staff