New bulk carrier grounds after steering problem on Columbia River


A bulk carrier delivered weeks earlier from a Japanese shipyard sustained a steering system malfunction and grounded in the Columbia River.

The Liberia-flagged KM London was outbound roughly 10 miles west of Longview, Wash., when its rudder became stuck at 5 degrees to starboard. The vessel left the channel at about 2000 on Dec. 14 and grounded at mile marker 54.5.

Authorities are still investigating the steering problem, which occurred on the 656-foot ship’s first voyage after departing Imabari Shipbuilding Co. in Japan.

“Preliminarily, it looks like it was a loose connection between a particular fuse and the steering gear starters,” said Coast Guard Lt. Theresa Bigay, assistant chief of investigations for Marine Safety Unit Portland.

The case remains under investigation and the official cause has not been determined.

KM London departed Vancouver, Wash., with a load of wheat several hours before the accident. The time between the loss of steering and the grounding was less than four minutes.

“They took action to slow down the vessel, went to full astern and almost immediately … dropped the port anchor when the grounding occurred,” Bigay said. “The steering casualty caused the vessel to deviate outside of the channel and hit bottom.”

KM London grounded on the Washington side of the river near Crims Island.

Initially there was some concern the ship grounded or struck an object inside the navigation channel. Data from the ship’s electronic chart display information system (ECDIS) gave investigators a clear picture of what happened.

“We have recent surveys of the depths in the channel and given the rudder was stuck at 5 degrees, once we took a look at the ECDIS track line you could see when the vessel began to veer off outside of the channel and where the impact occurred outside the channel,” Bigay said.

KM London’s hull breached in multiple places, including its forepeak and No. 1 ballast tank on the starboard side, suggesting the starboard bow made first contact with the river bottom. The Coast Guard said the crew took action to contain the flooding.

The ship had 18 people on board at the time of the grounding. No injuries or pollution were reported.

KM London refloated with the next high tide early on Dec. 15. The ship returned to Longview, Wash., for inspection and repairs. As of early January, the vessel remained in port.

“The exact extent of the damage will be clear once we obtain the dive survey report,” Bigay said in late December. “As you can imagine, it’s been a complex process putting together a plan for repairs given that some of the damage is under cargo hold No. 1 and the vessel (was) fully loaded.”

Vessel owner Kuang Ming Shipping Co. of Taipei, Taiwan, did not respond to an email seeking information about the incident. Attempts to reach the Columbia River Pilots for comment also were not successful.

By Professional Mariner Staff