Laker operator fined for failure to report Saginaw River grounding

An Ohio-based laker operator has paid a $5,000 penalty to the U.S. Coast Guard for failing to report a grounding at Bay City, Mich., until four months after it happened.

The Coast Guard issued the $5,000 civil penalty against Interlake Steamship Co. The company’s freighter Herbert C. Jackson ran aground June 1 as it was approaching the Bay Aggregate Inc. docks in the Saginaw River, said Richard Minnich, a Coast Guard senior investigator at Toledo, Ohio.

Interlake officials said they discovered propeller damage, but didn’t believe the vessel had grounded.

The incident destroyed two propellers and damaged the bottom of the 670-foot self-unloader’s hull, the Coast Guard investigators concluded. Although the ruined propellers were replaced three weeks later, no one from Interlake Steamship notified the Coast Guard. A Form CG-2692 reporting the maritime casualty was submitted in October, after the crew was cleaning ballast tanks and noticed the structural damage, which was significant, the Coast Guard said.

The ship’s crew was not at fault because they told their shore-side bosses about the grounding almost immediately after it happened.

“The captain reported it to the company, but the company did not report it to the Coast Guard,” Minnich said. “It wasn’t holed, but it was bad enough that they had to make repairs right away once the damage was discovered. It definitely affected hull integrity.”

The U.S.-flagged vessel was arriving at Bay Aggregate with a load of stone when it dragged bottom in a couple of spots, the Coast Guard said.

“They kind of got sideways, and the bow went into the mud first,” Minnich said. “When they backed down, that’s when the stern hit some old pilings that are on the chart. They heard this •thud’ — in their words. When they left the port, they felt the vibration and they knew they had a problem.”

Interlake Steamship hired divers to inspect the four propellers. Two props were changed out at Sandusky, Ohio. The vessel operator is required to report such a repair to the Coast Guard, but no one did. It wasn’t until 121 days after the grounding that the internal ballast tank survey uncovered the damage to the bottom of the hull.

“That’s when they admitted to the grounding on June 1, and they submitted a 2692 and reported it to the Coast Guard and the class society,” Minnich said.

Surveyors discovered hull-bottom damage aft near the No. 6 port ballast tank. There was visible damage from frame 160 to frame 188, including an area where frames were tripped and laid over. Bottom plating was upset, and internal frame welds were sheared. A 20-by-6-inch insert was needed in one spot near the stern. Because much of the damage was internal, no water leakage was detected, Minnich said.

Interlake Steamship was charged with failure to report a marine casualty, failure to submit a written 2692 report within five days and failure to report the repairs to the propellers.

Tom Wynne, Interlake’s staff attorney, said it’s not clear that a grounding occurred at Bay City. He said the propeller damage and hull damage may not have happened on the same voyage.

“The engineers reported to the captain that they heard something, and they thought something passed through the wheel. Once they got moving and they got up to lake speed, they felt a vibration — it’s sometimes called a •wobble,'” Wynne told Professional Mariner.

“There was nothing at all that indicated that there was a grounding. What we thought happened was that one of the old pilings was sucked up and passed through the wheel,” he said. “There’s no reason for us to hide anything. It’s a difference of opinion about whether the wheel damage was reportable. The Coast Guard thought that the wheel damage was caused by a grounding.”

The Coast Guard agreed to penalize the Richfield, Ohio-based company only on failure to report a marine casualty, and the $5,000 fine has been paid. The maximum fine is $37,000, but Minnich said this was Interlake’s first offense.

“We are trying to use this as a learning opportunity for other companies and make everybody aware of what the consequences are,” Minnich said. “If they would have reported it when it happened, it could have been taken care of.”

Dom Yanchunas

By Professional Mariner Staff