For the second time in 11 months, the 600-foot double-hull tanker Seabulk Pride was forced away from its dock by quickly developing ice conditions at the Kenai Pipeline Dock in Nikiski, Alaska, in Cook Inlet.
In the first incident on Feb. 2, 2006, “A rapid shift in weather conditions allowed a massive amount of ice to flow into the inlet,” according to Lt. Court Smith, chief of the U.S. Coast Guard’s investigations division at Sector Anchorage.
Just 15 minutes earlier, the waters surrounding the ship had been virtually ice-free. But suddenly large masses of ice enveloped the ship, pushing it backward parallel to the dock.
“The ship broke loose because the force it was subjected to was massive,” Smith said.
Before the ship’s engine could be started, the broken lines fouled the propeller, hindering engine startup. The ship, carrying 116,225 barrels of various petroleum products, drifted half a mile northward before grounding on a beach.
On Jan. 9, 2007, Seabulk Pride nearly broke loose from its moorings a second time. Six-inch-thick ice pushed by a 3-knot tide exerted enough force to push the tanker away from the dock, breaking one mooring line. The remaining four lines were strained, but the winches’ controlled release prevented them from breaking, giving the crew enough time to maintain control until Seabulk Pride was ready to get safely underway.
The ship is owned by Seabulk Tankers, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Tesoro Alaska, operator of the pipeline dock, has reported that a hand-spliced line weakened by repeated dockings, as well as a ship’s line that was showing signs of wear, contributed to the first incident. The Tesoro Alaska report, issued in January 2007, was made public by the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council.
The Coast Guard has a series of ice rules for Cook Inlet that vary according to changing ice conditions. In late 2006, the Coast Guard tightened those ice rules. As of the Nov. 30, 2006, when severe ice conditions threaten moored vessels, they are required to maintain their propulsion systems on “immediate standby.” They are also required to “maintain underway watches in engineering spaces and on the bridge when ice conditions threaten.”
Following this second incident, Tesoro Alaska took additional measures to ensure safety at the Nikiski dock. The company has chartered a 5,500-hp, 120-foot Protector Class tug from Crowley Maritime for service through the winter, according to the RCAC.
Investigations of both mooring incidents are still underway.