Oil spills after tanker, OSV collide following lightering operation

The oil tanker Krymsk sits 40 miles off Galveston following a collision and an 18,000-gallon spill. The ship had a 3-foot crack in a port bunker tank. (Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the cause of a collision between an oil tanker and an offshore supply vessel (OSV) that resulted in more than 18,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil being spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.

The 820-foot Liberian-flagged tanker, Krymsk, had just completed a lightering operation with Vega Star, a 1,092-foot Liberian tanker, at 2000 on Oct. 20, 2009, when the accident occurred, the Coast Guard reported. The OSV, the 166-foot AET Endeavor, was assisting the tankers about 40 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas, in 4- to 6-foot seas and 25-knot winds.

Lt. Tim Tilghman, public affairs officer for Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Galveston, said Krymsk and Endeavor collided as the OSV was recovering a fender used to keep the tankers apart during the oil transfer from Vega Star.

“The tankers are actually under way (during lightering) at a very slow speed,” Tilghman said. “Fenders are used just in case the suction pulls the vessels closer to each other than vessels of this size need to be. The fenders are almost the size of another ship … (they) are actually down in the water between the ships. After the operation concludes, they are recovered by the OSVs.”

Tilghman said Krymsk sustained a crack 3 feet long and a half-inch wide in the No. 2 port bunker tank, 2 to 4 feet above the waterline. The vessel’s crew transferred the oil in the damaged tank to a secure tank after the collision, but Coast Guard investigators determined that 18,000 gallons spilled before that action could be completed.

“It’s still under investigation as to who struck who,” Tilghman said. “The weather conditions were a factor, but they were not unusual for a lightering operation.”

Krymsk proceeded to Galveston for repairs after the collision, Tilghman said. Endeavor, owned by American Eagle Tankers of Houston, was not damaged, said AET spokesman Mike Elsom. Neither vessel reported mechanical or navigational problems to the Coast Guard prior to the accident.

No injuries were reported. Drug and alcohol tests administered to the crewmembers of both vessels — six on Endeavor and 23 on Krymsk — were negative, Tilghman said.

The master aboard Endeavor at the time of the accident has more than five years of experience operating OSVs, Elsom said. Information on the captain of Krymsk could not be obtained from Novorossiysk Shipping of Russia, the company that operates the tanker.

Weather conditions after the collision prevented the Coast Guard and other responding agencies from deploying booms to contain the oil. Instead, 1,000 gallons of dispersants — chemicals that accelerate the breakdown of oil into droplets — were sprayed onto the spill the next day from a DC-3. Tilghman said there were no reports of oil reaching the coastline.

“The rapid application of dispersants in the early hours of this response, combined with ready on-water recovery assets, appears to have been effective in preventing the oil spill from reaching shore to date,” said Cmdr. Jim Elliott, commanding officer of Marine Safety Unit Galveston, in an Oct. 23 news release.

In addition to the Coast Guard, personnel from the Texas General Land Office, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Texas Parks and Wildlife, O’Brien’s Response Management and American Eagle Tankers responded to the spill.

Rich Miller

By Professional Mariner Staff