High winds blow ferry off its moorings and send it aground

A state-run car ferry broke free from its moorings in hurricane-force winds and ran aground in southern Alaska, spilling about 2,400 gallons of fuel.

The Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) vessel Lituya drifted aground on Scrub Island in Port Chester at about 0200 on Jan. 30. It had broken from its steel moorings at the AHMS terminal in Metlakatla shortly after midnight.

No one was aboard the 181-foot vessel. Weather conditions at the time of the grounding included 6 to 12-foot seas with winds gusting to 80 knots. Alaska’s Division of Spill Prevention and Response program stated that the high winds caused the ferry to part its three wires and single mooring line before it was blown about three quarters of a mile north.

The Alaska Marine Highway System ferry came to rest on Alaska’s Scrub Island. Winds had been gusting at up to 80 knots. Courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities

The vessel was carrying 7,000 gallons of No. 2 diesel fuel, approximately 800 gallons of lube oil and an unknown quantity of hydraulic fluid. The U.S. Coast Guard reported a 75-foot by 5-foot sheen from fuel-tank vents around the vessel. The AMHS contracted Southeast Alaska Petroleum Resource Organization (SEAPRO) to mitigate further pollution, and SEAPRO applied a containment boom around the vessel.

A team of marine inspectors from Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment Ketchikan performed a damage assessment later on Jan. 30 while the tide was out.

“The vessel’s stern was hard aground on Scrub Island, and the vessel listed up to 15 degrees to starboard. The inspectors found some damage to a keel cooler and the port stabilizer fin,” the Coast Guard stated in a press release.

“A small amount of fuel spilled into the water early in the morning when the vessel began to list as the tide dropped. Subsequently, the Lituya’s master and chief engineer were able to board the vessel and cap the vents to prevent further leakage.”

At about 1000, SEAPRO transferred approximately 550 gallons of fuel from the vessel to a barge. The tugs Cape Muzon and Ethan B pulled the boat off the rocks at about 1410 and towed Lituya to Ketchikan for repairs.

Lituya had been moored with steel cable lines prior to the incident, said Roger Wetherell, a spokesman for Alaska’s Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

“It’s too early to speculate on how the lines parted,” Wetherell said, confirming the keel cooler and port stabilizer fin damage.

A further internal and external inspection of the vessel Feb. 14 found damage in the forward port bow area and a section of keel just forward of the engine room where the majority of the vessel’s weight rested when it grounded. “The shipyard will be cutting and installing several feet of steel into the shell and bottom plating,” said Coast Guard Lt. Jason Boyer. “In addition, they will cut a section of the vessel’s keel box and CVK (center vertical keel) and install new in accordance with original approved drawings. There were several other areas in (the) vessel that suffered insets, and there will be some swash bulkhead replacement.”

There was a loss of approximately 2,400 gallons of diesel fuel in the incident.

By Professional Mariner Staff