Offshore support vessel rescues hobbled bulker to avert grounding in Aleutians

A fully laden dry-bulk carrier that went adrift near the Aleutian Islands because of a turbocharger failure needed urgent rescue by an oil-industry vessel equipped with a temporary towing kit.

Golden Seas lost its main engine in heavy weather on Dec. 3, 2010, northwest of Alaska’s Adak and Atka islands. The 738-foot ship, loaded with rapeseed, was pounded by 30-foot waves and 45-knot winds in the Bering Sea, said Petty Officer David Mosley, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman.

The tug/supply vessel Tor Viking II tows bulk carrier Golden Seas safely into Alaska’s Broad Bay after the ship lost power in its main engine at sea. An emergency towing kit installed on the oil-industry vessel helped Golden Seas avoid grounding in the Aleutians. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer David Mosley)

The engineer could not repair the ship at sea, because parts were not on hand. The U.S. Coast Guard and Alaska state officials began preparing a rescue plan and, simultaneously, an environmental response to a prospective grounding. The nearest ship capable of towing Golden Seas was the 251-foot supply vessel Tor Viking II, which was 400 miles away at Dutch Harbor.

While Golden Seas crew waited almost two days for Tor Viking II‘s arrival, the Liberian-flagged bulk carrier drifted to within 28 miles of Atka Island, unable to muster enough engine power to counter the battering waves.

“It was not a complete loss of power, but it was such a dramatic loss of power that they became at the mercy of the seas,” Mosley said.

The propulsion failure occurred in the early hours of that Friday morning. Golden Seas normally sails at 10 knots, but the engine problem reduced the top speed to 2 knots. In the pounding seas, that would not be enough to avoid an eventual grounding, Mosley said.

“They were being pushed, but as we get to Saturday, (the sea state) started laying down and they started steering away from Atka Island. That bought some time for the Tor Viking II to get there,” he said. “So the ship’s crew never gave up. They were waiting for the calmer seas, and when they had the chance, they took it.”

Tor Viking II, a 18,300-hp icebreaking tug/supply vessel, had picked up the state of Alaska’s Emergency Towing System that is stored at Dutch Harbor for just such an emergency when no robust towboat is in the vicinity.

“This allows a vessel that may not be rigged for towing to take another vessel under tow, or at least keep it from running aground,” Mosley said.

David Brown, a program specialist with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said the towing kit consists of 350 feet of 10-inch plasma towline, a 600-foot messenger line, 85-pound shackle, tow-reel attachments and a strobe light.

Tor Viking II is owned by Trans Viking Icebreaking & Offshore AS and is operated by Viking Supply Ships AS. Both are headquartered in Norway. Viking Supply is an affiliate of Rederi AB TransAtlantic of Sweden. The Swedish-flagged vessel was under contract to Royal Dutch Shell, which agreed to release the boat to respond to the emergency.

Golden Seas is managed by Allseas Marine SA of Greece. Its owner is Paragon Shipping Inc., also based in Greece. Allseas Marine spokesman Adam Baylor confirmed that the power loss was caused by a turbocharger failure. He said the ship was built in 2006.

The bulk ship was en route from Vancouver to the United Arab Emirates when it suffered its breakdown. It carried 60 metric tons of rapeseed, plus 450,000 gallons of fuel oil, 11,700 gallons of diesel fuel and 10,000 gallons of lube oil.

Tor Viking II reached Golden Seas on the night of Dec. 4 and was able to bring the ship under tow and begin pulling it toward Dutch Harbor in 20-foot seas. The Alaska Marine Pilots devised a sailing plan through two sheltered passes to help the vessels avoid the worst of the conditions. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley escorted them, and Coast Guard helicopters also kept watch.

After a 500-mile voyage, Golden Seas anchored in Broad Bay on Dec. 7. After parts were flown to Dutch Harbor, the turbocharger was replaced, Baylor said. The ship was inspected and cleared to resume its scheduled voyage Dec. 13, the Coast Guard said.

Dom Yanchunas

By Professional Mariner Staff