Faulty indicator light aboard containership
leads to grounding in Savannah River

Tugboats moved the ship to a nearby LNG terminal after the grounding. No fuel was spilled and the ship sustained no structural damage. (Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

A containership with an electrical malfunction ran aground in the Savannah River, forcing the Coast Guard to close the river to ship traffic for 15 hours.

The 796-foot MSC Korea grounded near Elba Island, Ga., at 0100 Nov. 27, 2007, the Coast Guard said. The Panamanian-flagged vessel had been outbound from the Port of Savannah when it became disabled in the shipping channel.

Coast Guard investigators said a simple electrical breakdown paralyzed the ship. The pilot and crew dropped anchor and the vessel drifted to port before the grounding on the South Carolina side of the river. There were no injuries, structural damage or fuel spilled.

“It was a faulty indicator light on the main switchboard,” said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Lynn. “When the light became faulty, the subsequent result of that shut down the propulsion system on the vessel.”

MSC Korea’s crew could not make the repair themselves. Twelve hours later, four tugboats moved the ship away from the river channel to a mooring at the nearby Elba Island liquified natural gas terminal.

After the electrical breakdown and grounding, the crew could not retrieve the ship’s anchor. That caused further shipping disruptions in the river.

“Because the ship wasn’t able to restore electrical power, they had to cut the anchor chain,” Lynn said. “The river reopened with draft restrictions, because the anchor was still in the channel.”

MSC Korea was beginning a scheduled voyage to Norfolk, Va., when it grounded. The ship is owned by Mediterranean Shipping Co., based in Geneva. The manager is Ciel Shipmanagement SA of Athens, Greece.

Capt. John Chountas, Ciel’s general manager, said the faulty lamp automatically cut off fuel supply to the engines.

“The repair basically consisted of the replacement of the lamp holder in the ‘Full Auto Stop’ command push button for the diesel generators,” Chountas said. “The lamp holder had failed upon its depression, causing a short circuit which interrupted the fuel supply to the diesel generators.”

While mechanics were called in to replace the faulty electrical part, MSC Korea interests hired Savannah Marine Services Inc. to retrieve the anchor and chain from the river bottom. Chountas said the same contractor then maneuvered a barge alongside MSC Korea and reattached the anchor chain.

The incident caused a brief controversy in the Savannah area. Some public officials argued that the disabled ship should not have been towed to the LNG terminal, a highly secure area. Coast Guard officials responded that the ship’s cargo had already been inspected, and the LNG dock was the nearest, safest destination for the powerless vessel.

Coast Guard personnel boarded MSC Korea, and the repair crews underwent security screening before a tug escorted them to the ship.

By Professional Mariner Staff