Helicopters evacuate crew from stranded bulk carrier near Canada

A grain carrier’s crew were evacuated by helicopter after the ship’s engine room flooded and the vessel drifted against a shoal in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

John I was disabled by the flooding between the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon and Newfoundland. All 23 crewmembers were evacuated by air from the 595-foot-long bulk carrier on March 15.

John I was en route from the port of Matadi, Congo, to Montreal for a load of grain. While heading for St. Pierre and Miquelon to pick up a pilot, the crew encountered bad weather and changed plans. The captain decided to board a pilot later on in the Gulf.

On the morning of March 14, the Panama-flagged bulk carrier lost power and began drifting parallel to the shoreline on the southern coast of Newfoundland. At that time the vessel was not in immediate danger and its owners had hired a tug to assist.

John I came to rest against the shoal 600 feet offshore, approximately one mile from the community of Rose Blanche, Newfoundland. Rose Blanche is 32 nm from the start of the traffic lanes inbound to the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

On the way into the Gulf, John I ran into ice conditions, according to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) investigator in charge, Stephane Chevalier. “And then subsequently the engine room flooded. This is why they lost power; the vessel was drifting for the best part of a day,” Chevalier said.

When the ship was close to shore, the Canadian Coast Guard ship Earl Grey made several attempts to connect a towline. These attempts were unsuccessful as John I had no power to lift the lines on board and the vessel dropped its forward anchors.

Chevalier said the TSB makes a distinction between the terminology “aground” and “making contact.” John I made contact with the shoal without running aground.

A Cormorant helicopter from Search and Rescue 103 Squadron in Gander removed all 23 crewmembers from aboard John I and flew them to Burgeo, Newfoundland, during the afternoon of March 15.

The vessel remained against the shoal until March 16 when it floated free after a change in wind direction.

Chevalier said the cause of the engine room flooding is under investigation, and he is working with his colleagues to determine what happened.

“They pumped out the engine room and myself and another investigator went aboard,” Chevalier said in an interview with Professional Mariner. “We seized some items from the engine room to help our investigation. Those items that were seized were sent to our lab in Ottawa.”

The tug Ryan Leet, hired by the ship’s owners, arrived March 17 and made an attempt to place a towline on John I. Operations were suspended due to deteriorating weather and sea conditions.

A salvage crew from Svitzer and a tow master boarded John I on March 18 and completed a secure tow hookup with the tugs Ryan Leet and Atlantic Fir. Two crewmembers of John I, the chief engineer and the electrician, boarded the ship.

Towing of John I got underway at approximately 0900 on March 20, 2014. Earl Grey, with offshore oil spill response equipment and environmental response officers aboard, monitored John I along the route to Argentia.

The ship arrived in Argentia on March 22.

Tommy Poulin, control center coordinator with the Port of Montreal, said John I is operated by Ceren Denizcilik Sanayi, based in Istanbul, Turkey.

The company did not respond to a request for comment. Details of the necessary repairs were unavailable.

By Professional Mariner Staff