Jammed rudder suspected in grounding of double-hull tanker in Lower New York Bay

White Sea is attended by three Moran tugs after losing steering and running aground about four miles north of Sandy Hook. (Photos courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

The Coast Guard is investigating whether a 796-foot tanker had temporarily lost its steering when it ran aground in Lower New York Bay.

Crew and pilots on the bridge of White Sea reported that the ship’s rudder possibly became stuck in a 10° turn to port July 12 while the vessel was outbound in Ambrose Channel.

The Liberian-flagged ship was drifting to port when it grounded at 0630 just alongside the channel, four miles north of Sandy Hook, N.J.

White Sea was carrying 556,000 barrels of fuel oil from Bayonne, N.J., en route to Singapore when it grounded. No fuel spilled from the double-hulled tanker, but two ballast tanks were pierced when the ship ran over its own anchor, said Cmdr. David Flaherty, chief of the Coast Guard’s prevention department for Sector New York.

“They dropped the anchor in an attempt to control the vessel, and she actually rode up on the anchor before she stopped,” Flaherty said. “She grounded really quickly after leaving the channel, in a muddy area.”

White Sea remained aground for about 36 hours. The grounding never impeded other traffic in Ambrose Channel. No one was injured.

One pilot and one observing apprentice from the Sandy Hook Pilots were aboard. In addition to dropping anchor, an attempt was made to activate the auxiliary steering motor and also to back the ship, the pilots reported. However, at a speed of about 8 knots, the loaded tanker had too much momentum carrying it out of the channel.

The Coast Guard had not determined the exact cause as of early August. One theory was that underwater debris caused the rudder to become temporarily stuck.

“I believe the rudder locked over,” said Capt. Dennis Wheeler, New York president of the Sandy Hook Pilots. “They tried the follow-up steering and nothing happened, and the rudder just stayed where it was.”

The Coast Guard established a security zone around the grounded vessel, while tugboats from Moran Towing assisted. The management interests contracted Resolve Marine Group to handle the salvage operation.

After 121,000 barrels of the fuel was lightered to a Bouchard Transportation Co. barge, the tanker refloated at high tide. Moran tugs escorted the ship to Staten Island’s Stapleton Anchorage, where White Sea underwent mechanical and hull inspections.

The ship was carrying 556,000 gallons of low-sulfur fuel oil when it drifted out of the channel. No oil was spilled, but two ballast tanks were pierced when the ship ran over its own anchor.

The inspections revealed no mechanical problems with the steering, the Coast Guard said.

“The steering system was evaluated and was found to be in operating condition at anchor,” Flaherty said.

The 16-year-old ship has a draft of about 45 feet. At the time of the grounding, seas were 2 to 4 feet, with northwesterly winds at 10 to 15 knots. Flaherty said there was no traffic congestion and visibility was good.

White Sea needed temporary repairs to a fore ballast tank and a port ballast tank, Flaherty said. The remainder of the fuel oil was transferred to the Liberian-flagged tanker Centennial Jewel.

On July 27, White Sea departed Staten Island for the Bahamas, where the managers planned to make permanent repairs.

The Coast Guard said White Sea is owned by Singapore-based Tanker Pacific Management and was chartered to Westport Shipping Services, based in United Arab Emirates. Westport didn’t respond to a request for comment.

By Professional Mariner Staff