Empty bulk carrier breaks away from anchorage and runs aground

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating why an empty 624-foot bulk freighter broke loose from its anchorage and ran aground in strong winds off Long Beach, Calif.

The Panamanian-flagged Ocean Sunrise grounded on Island Freeman, a man-made oil facility less than 0.5 nm away from a designated anchorage area inside the San Pedro Bay breakwater.

The grounding was reported to the Coast Guard at 1830 on Feb. 18, said Coast Guard spokesman Trent C. Kelly.

The 624-foot Ocean Sunrise sits at anchor off Long Beach, Calif., awaiting inspection after the bulk carrier was freed from rocks. Strong winds pushed the ship from its moorings and ran it aground. The hull inspection revealed no breaches. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Eggers)

Prior to the grounding, Jacobsen Pilot Services of Long Beach confirmed that the vessel was moored in anchorage area D-3. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes that the area has a sandy bottom. Kelly said that weather at that time was heavy rain and winds of 25 to 30 knots, with moderate seas inside the harbor.

"The freighter broke loose from its mooring spot and drifted into the rocks surrounding the oil island, but we're still trying to determine how exactly that happened," Kelly said.

At the time of the grounding the ship was empty of fuel and cargo following a dockside Coast Guard inspection, which revealed debris in its oil tank. With no cargo and minimal fuel it was moved to the anchorage. Now lighter, the ship was more prone to being blown about in the heavy weather. Other vessels in the anchorage did not drag anchor.

Coast Guard spokesman Adam Eggers said a 45-foot response boat and tugs were immediately dispatched to move Ocean Sunrise back to the anchorage. The vessel was moved to anchorage area D-2, which is located slightly closer to the island. The tugs stood by for several hours as a precaution.

Initial inspections from above the waterline with search lights did not reveal any damage and soundings were made to determine the integrity of the storage and fuel tanks. These inspections were followed up with an underwater video inspection. The video showed multiple scrape marks on the hull, but no breaches of the hull or tanks. The Coast Guard, Los Angeles Port Police and the Long Beach Police monitored the area around the ship and Island Freeman for any sign of pollution — none was found.

Kelly said there was a crew of 25 aboard Ocean Sunrise. There were no injuries associated with the grounding. Kelly said that the cause of the accident is still under investigation.

Attempts to reach the vessel's Japanese owner/operators NYK Line for comment by e-mail and phone were unsuccessful.

By Professional Mariner Staff