Grain carrier spills fuel in Seaway when anchor breaches hull

A bulk carrier full of wheat experienced a propulsion casualty and spilled fuel into the St. Lawrence Seaway near Montreal.

An investigator said the 712-foot Richelieu struck the side of the seaway channel, and the hull was punctured by one of the vessel’s own anchors.

The accident happened within the South Shore Canal just above the Cote Ste. Catherine lock July 12. The Canadian Coast Guard reported that about 528 to 2,112 gallons of Bunker C spilled from Richelieu.

Initially officials indicated that the vessel had grounded, but the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada later determined that those reports were incorrect, said Bernard Breton, a senior marine investigator.

The 22,734-gross-ton Richelieu is operated by CSL Group Inc.’s Canada Steamship Lines, based in Montreal. A press release from CSL said that Richelieu experienced propulsion problems while outbound near Ste. Catherine at 1930.

Following standard emergency procedures, the vessel dropped anchors to regain control. A sudden squall caused the vessel to shift position and possibly strike one of the anchors, puncturing a fuel tank, the company said.

“The vessel never ran aground. He just made contact with the side of the seaway — (the) channel wall,†TSB’s Breton said. “He overrode one of his anchors while backing into the center of the channel.â€

Until recently known as Lake Erie, Richelieu is a “saltie†that had loaded at Thunder Bay, Ontario, and was en route to Quebec City. The vessel was carrying 24,700 metric tons of prairie wheat for the Canadian Wheat Board, said wheat board spokesman John Lyons.

“There was no damage to the cargo,†he said.

The puncture was to the No. 5 port bunker tank, Breton said.

Water ingress pressurized the tank, venting fuel onto the main deck. With high winds and rain at the time, the spill could not be immediately contained. Divers inspected the damage and found no leakage from the fuel tank.

The crew and shore-side management immediately implemented the vessel’s emergency response plan and notified all relevant authorities. The vessel’s crew deployed booms.

St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. (SLSMC) staff activated the Seaway’s emergency response plan, deploying resources to seal the lock at Cote Ste. Catherine and halt the current in the canal.

Oil spill response specialist Eastern Canada Response Corp. attended, deploying additional booms to contain the spill.

“The pollution is mainly confined within the stockade and the cleanup will continue until it is completely cleaned,†said Sylvie Racine, executive assistant at Transport Canada,

The spill was contained within the canal above the lock, with no oil entering the lock or moving downstream. Navigation was suspended in the South Shore Canal immediately after the spill. The balance of the Seaway — west of the South Shore Canal, extending to the Welland Canal — remained open to traffic.

Traffic on the South Shore Canal was halted during the cleanup until about 1600 on July 15.

Michel Drouin

By Professional Mariner Staff