Loss of steering causes grain ship to ground in St. Lawrence Seaway

A Canadian bulk grain carrier ran aground in the St. Lawrence Seaway after a generator fuel module failed and the ship lost steering.

Algobay grounded July 4 at about 0900 on Superior Shoal, 0.35 nautical miles west/northwest of Light 165 in the seaway. The spot is just east of Singer Castle off Chippewa Bay, N.Y., in U.S. waters.

The 740-foot grain carrier was downbound en route to Prescott, Ontario, with a cargo of corn when it lost steering, causing it to drift outside of the shipping channel and ground on the shoal. The master dropped anchor, but was unable to prevent the grounding.

Vicki Garcia, spokeswoman for the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corp., said further inspection revealed hull damage consisting of bent frames and punctures to the forepeak that required temporary repairs before the ship proceeded to Port Weller Dry Docks in St. Catharines, Ontario. Garcia said that the cause of the accident was a failure of the generator fuel module which led to a steering failure. Neither weather nor visibility appeared to play a part in the grounding, she said.

The master reported the grounding to the St. Lawrence Seaway vessel traffic control. A U.S. Coast Guard crew from Station Alexandria Bay was the first to respond and provided a 100-yard safety zone around the vessel. Other agencies responding included the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment from Massena, N.Y., the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. (U.S.), St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. (Canada) and Transport Canada.

The ship grounded at the bow with the current moving northeast, against the stern, said Lt. Cmdr. Carl Kepper, from the Coast Guard Marine Safety Division in Massena. There was no pilot aboard. The Coast Guard and the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. worked with Canadian officials to develop a plan which utilized two tugs, Wilf Seymour, owned by McKeil Marine Ltd., and Vigilant I, owned by Nadro Marine, to free the vessel.

The Coast Guard response team found the vessel’s tanks to be above the water line and not punctured. A containment boom was employed as a precaution.

Algobay was successfully refloated at 2200 on July 6. The vessel proceeded to Prescott to offload its cargo of corn under its own power. No pollution or injuries were reported.

Algobay is operated by Seaway Marine Transport of St. Catharines, Ontario. The ship had returned to service this past winter after being laid up. It was recently repaired in China, where it received a new bow section. In April 2010, the ship ran aground in the St. Mary’s River near Soo Locks, causing significant hull damage.

Seaway Marine Transport didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The cause of the July 4 accident is still under investigation by both the U.S. Coast Guard and Transport Canada.

John Snyder

By Professional Mariner Staff