Iron ore carrier strays from channel, runs aground on approach to Baltimore

To refloat the ship, approximately 20,000 metric tons of cargo had to be removed in a lightering operation. The ship was freed two and a half days after it ran aground. Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating what caused a bulk carrier loaded with iron ore to run aground in Chesapeake Bay near Annapolis, Md.

CSL Argosy, an 800-foot Bahamian-flagged ship, grounded Jan. 17 near Gibson Island and the mouth of the Magothy River. The vessel was en route to the Port of Baltimore via lower Craighill Channel with a full cargo of iron ore. At the time of the accident, a Maryland pilot was on the bridge along with “a full bridge, including the master,” said Lt. Cmdr. John Dittmar, chief of the Inspection Division for Coast Guard Sector Baltimore. Dittmar said that there was “no loss of propulsion and no loss of steering” and that drug and alcohol tests were negative.

Dittmar said that the ship grounded “fully outside the channel and between two buoys, Craighill Channel Lighted Ice Buoy 8 and Craighill Channel Lighted Ice Buoy 10, where the channel takes a slight dogleg.”

The Coast Guard received a call at 1105 that Argosy was aground. The vessel grounded outside of the inbound side of channel in mud about one hour before high tide. The wind was light at about 4 mph and visibility was 10 nm. Initial attempts to free Argosy using tugs were unsuccessful.

The vessel’s operator was VShips, a division of United Kingdom-based VGroup Ltd. Coast Guard and VShips officials determined that approximately 20,000 metric tons of cargo would have to be removed to lighten the ship and refloat it. Lightering began at 1753 on Jan. 18 and ended at 2131 the next day.

McAllister Towing coordinated the lightering operation. Five McAllister tugs — Michael, Donal, Kaleen, Robert and Greg — were involved. K-Sea Transportation provided the barges Columbia and Portsmouth with the aid of tug North Sea. The lightered cargo was taken to Sparrows Point near Dundalk, Md.

The ship was freed at about 2200 on Jan. 19. After a preliminary inspection, it proceeded to an anchorage near Annapolis for further inspection and a dive survey with representatives of the classification society in attendance. There were no injuries and the Coast Guard determined that there were no signs of damage or pollution associated with the accident. The ship then proceeded to the Port of Baltimore where its remaining cargo was unloaded.

Dittmar said that inspection of the buoys by the Coast Guard found them to be on station and operating properly. Because the ship grounded outside the channel, it was not an impediment to navigation.

John P. Hamill, first vice president of operations and management with the Association of Maryland Pilots, said that he could not comment on the grounding because it is under investigation by the Maryland State Board of Pilot Examiners and the Coast Guard.

VShips’ management office in Boston would not comment on the grounding.

By Professional Mariner Staff