Fuel spilled after wind and currents
drive bulk carrier against its dock

Algonorth, a 730-foot laker, was blown back onto a dock in Toledo, Ohio.

A 730-foot bulk ship scraped the side of a dock at Toledo, Ohio, spilling an estimated 3,100 gallons of fuel into the Maumee River, and a crewman on an adjacent vessel suffered a broken arm when a line snapped.

The captain of the laker Algonorth had unwisely decided to cast off in high winds without the aid of a tugboat, said Lt. Cmdr. Richard Minnich, of the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit at Toledo.

The hull of Algonorth was pierced by a steel rail and cleat on the pier, which is part of an Andersons Inc. grain terminal. The accident happened at about 2100 on Dec. 15, 2007 when the Canadian-flagged ship was departing the pier for a voyage to Port-Cartier, Quebec.

The Maumee River was at flood stage at the time, because of heavy rain and melting ice. Winds were around 25 knots, and the river current was 2 knots.

“They were desperately trying to pull away from the dock,” Minnich said. “The wind and the current combined more or less pushed his stern against the dock. He kind of slid down along the pier face … and his starboard quarter caught the corner of one of the rails and it punctured the hull.”

The ship Federal Pioneer was moored just aft of Algonorth at the time. Algonorth’s struggles kicked up waves that led to the crewman’s broken arm. “The backlash forced (Federal Pioneer) away from the pier, and they were trying to adjust their lines,” Minnich said. “One line came off the capstan and snapped up and hit him.”

The hull was pierced by a steel rail that penetrated the fuel tanks, resulting in a spill.

Two of Algonorth’s fuel tanks were ruptured. Minnich said about 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 100 gallons of bunker fuel spilled into the river. The Coast Guard and cleanup contractors deployed about 2,400 feet of containment boom in an effort to remove the fuel from the river.

Algonorth, which had just been loaded with grain at the terminal, is owned by Algoma Central Corp. and managed by Seaway Marine Transport Inc. Both companies are based in St. Catharines, Ontario.

Capt. John Greenway, Seaway Marine Transport’s vice president of operations, said there were no mechanical problems on Algonorth. Greenway declined to specify a cause of the accident, but he confirmed that the wind and current conditions posed a challenge for the crew.

“Weather was certainly a contributing factor,” Greenway said. “That, and the water levels and some shoaling off the dock certainly contributed to the maneuvering difficulty.”

Greenway said Algonorth was built in 1970 as an ocean carrier and was later converted for Great Lakes trade. The ship measures 15,458 gross tons.

No steel was sticking out over the side of the concrete pier, Minnich said. Instead, the struggling ship leaned over the side of the dock slightly, making contact with the rail and cleat on top of the pier. The ship’s gash was about 10 feet above the waterline.

“When they used the bow thruster, the ship kind of pointed out toward the channel, and that’s when the wind got ahold of him, and he just kind of raked the deck along the pier face,” Minnich said.

Greenway said the hull gash was a “can-opener-type crease” measuring about 30 feet long. A temporary repair was done at Toledo. Algonorth then sailed to Port Colborne on the Welland Canal for its permanent repair in the form of a “shell insert,” he said. Algonorth was back in trade within a week of the accident.

A section of rail and cleat on the Andersons pier was damaged. The Algonorth interests also face civil penalties for the fuel cleanup, Minnich said. Three other vessels were delayed, because the Coast Guard stopped traffic while the booms were out. Although the investigation was still open in late January, Coast Guard Marine Safety officials said the Algonorth captain could have delayed the voyage until the weather improved.

“That certainly would have prevented it from happening  if they waited for the wind and the current to subside  but we all know how much of a hurry these ships are in to get to the next port,” Minnich said. “If he had decided to use a tug to help him from the dock, that would have prevented it,” Minnich added.

In the end, tugboats were hired. The Coast Guard said Great Lakes Towing Co.’s Nebraska and Idaho helped the damaged Algonorth to get back to the dock safely.

By Professional Mariner Staff