Edison Chouest tug dents tanker during Valdez docking maneuver


The Crowley Maritime tanker Florida sustained minor hull damage from a “hard landing” in Valdez, Alaska, by one of Edison Chouest Offshore’s new purpose-built tugboats.

The 6,000-hp Ingot struck Florida’s stern with its starboard quarter while coming alongside for a docking maneuver at Valdez Marine Terminal, according to Kate Dugan, spokeswoman for Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. The incident was reported at about 0515 on June 27.

The metal-to-metal impact caused an “indentation” on Florida’s portside stern measuring 20 inches long by 6 inches wide by 3 inches deep, she said. There was no pollution and no one on either vessel was injured.​

Alyeska, which owns the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, is investigating the incident. The U.S. Coast Guard and Crowley also are trying to determine the cause.

“There are already key takeaways and actions that have been identified to reduce the risk of similar occurrences in the future,” Dugan said in an email. “A joint meeting between Alyeska, tanker operators, marine pilots and tug operators resulted in an agreement to increase the level of communications during docking and undocking, and to slow the speed of both the tankers and the tugs as they come alongside each other for these operations.”

The incident occurred days before Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO) formally took over escort and response duties for tankers coming and going from Prince William Sound. The Louisiana company outbid Crowley for the high-profile contract in 2016.

The new 10-year agreement with Alyeska took effect July 1, although Crowley and ECO have been working closely on training and other efforts for some time. Crowley performed escort and safety work in the region for the past 41 years.

The 600-foot U.S.-flagged Florida reached the Valdez terminal shortly after sunrise. Ingot and another 6,000-hp ECO tug, Bainbridge, were preparing to dock the tanker when the incident occurred. Details surrounding the chain of events that led to the impact between Ingot and Florida were not available.

“Preliminary review has shown this incident was not related to the design of the new (ECO) vessels or equipment,” Dugan said.

The Coast Guard and the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) subsequently inspected Florida before it loaded any crude. The process delayed the ship’s departure.

Joe Lally, director of programs, Valdez, for the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, said the incident was unusual — particularly because it delayed cargo loading and the ship’s departure.

“There are times when dents happen, but that is typically when the fendered part of the tug and the ship come into contact,” Lally said. He added that the indentation was “deep and sharp versus a blunt-type damage.”​

Lally, a former commander for Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Valdez, could not recall a similar incident since he arrived in the region almost four years ago.​

Lally praised preparations by ECO and Alyeska during the contract transition. He said the new crews have performed dozens of drills and training sessions in the sound, some jointly with Crowley personnel standing by. Crowley tugs also have jointly performed escorts and docking with the new ECO crews.​

Lally also noted the new equipment that ECO brought to Alaska. The company built nine new tugboats expressly for Valdez, five of which are the most powerful azimuthing-stern drive (ASD) tugs ever built with 12,300 horsepower each. The four others, including Ingot and Bainbridge, perform ship docking and other duties. ECO also brought four new oil spill response barges.

The citizens’ group has raised concerns about the tight arrival of some of the new tugboats. The last 12,300-hp escort tug, Challenger, didn’t reach Valdez until the end of June.

“It did not leave much time for familiarization and acclimation to Prince William Sound,” Lally said. “They were training in Louisiana, but to arrive on the 27th and be out in place a couple days later, it felt like the transition was rushed.”

Dugan said Alyeska has high expectations and has scheduled “numerous assurance activities as part of the contractor’s first year of work in Prince William Sound.” She also noted the group of maritime stakeholders have agreed to continue working together to refine best practices.

“We are monitoring ECO closely and making adjustments where needed,” she said. “Assurance activities include an increased tempo of exercises, and Alyeska personnel on tugs during prevention and response operations.”

Crowley spokesman David DeCamp confirmed the basic details of the incident. He also said the company was proud of its safety record during its 41 years serving the region.

By Professional Mariner Staff