Laker strays from Cuyahoga River channel, sinking boat moored at a restaurant dock

A 605-foot laker – one of the oldest in operation – strayed from the shipping channel in Ohio’s Cuyahoga River and struck two pleasure boats that were moored at a restaurant dock.

A recreational boat lies partially sunk in the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland after being struck by a 605-foot laker. The boat was tied up at a restaurant dock when it was struck by the ship that veered off course after making a turn.  (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

One recreational vessel was sunk in the June 1 accident on the west bank of the Cleveland Flats area, the U.S. Coast Guard said. Cuyahoga, perhaps the last A1 Maritimer-class bulk freighter on the Great Lakes, had taken a previous turn too wide, witnesses reported. The course of the 65-year-old vessel wasn’t corrected in time to avoid the pleasure boats.

Several patrons at Shooters Restaurant saw the laker strike the boats at 1715. The eatery’s dock, which also was damaged in the accident, is on a straight stretch of the river. The witnesses said the upbound freighter might have been going too fast when it made a 20Ëš turn to port about 200 yards earlier. They said crewmembers on Cuyahoga‘s deck were running back and forth and waving their arms.

“The ship was way off course,•bCrLf said Elvin Jones, owner of the docked 36-foot boat that sank after being struck by Cuyahoga‘s starboard quarter. “He came in quite fast and failed to navigate the earlier turn. He turned too wide. (Cuyahoga) just grazed the boat that’s owned by the Shooters Restaurant owner, and then it made a direct hit on my boat. It broadsided it, and it sank immediately. The dock was smashed and parts of it were demolished.•bCrLf

Jones’ boat was a 1989 Pace Egg Harbor-design sport fisher. He said the fiberglass boat was destroyed. The other vessel that was struck was a 52-foot Sea Ray express cruiser, which sustained moderate damage.

Cuyahoga, fully loaded with limestone, was en route from Lake Erie to the nearby Lafarge Cleveland Cement Terminal, said Lt. Kurt Van Hauter, executive officer of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit at Cleveland.

Van Hauter said there were no reports of problems with navigation equipment or mechanical systems on the laker. Cuyahoga needed no repairs and simply continued operating. The boat is a frequent visitor to the Cuyahoga River, but the Coast Guard is investigating whether that particular crew had experience navigating it.

The Canadian-flagged Cuyahoga is owned by Lower Lakes Towing Ltd. of Port Dover, Ontario, the Coast Guard said. The vessel’s operator is Lower Lakes affiliate Black Creek Shipping Co., also of Port Dover. Lower Lakes officials didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The restaurant dock is the last place Jones said he would have expected to be involved in an accident.

“That is not the most difficult area of the river to navigate,•bCrLf said Jones, 62, of Shaker Heights, Ohio. “The word •Cuyahoga’ itself means •crooked river’ and it has twists and turns, but that is the straight part of the river.•bCrLf

Van Hauter said lakers sometimes hire tugboats to help them navigate the Cuyahoga safely, but usually farther upriver. This incident happened only a short distance from the river’s mouth, where the bends aren’t as sharp.

“They don’t typically have a tug at that point on the way in,•bCrLf Van Hauter said. “We leave that up to the discretion of the company.•bCrLf

Van Hauter said Coast Guard investigators are working on safety recommendations based on the accident. 

By Professional Mariner Staff