Owner praises responders after tug grounds, spills fuel near Ketchikan

Samson Mariner 1

An oceangoing tugboat towing a cargo barge ran aground on a charted shoal near Ketchikan, Alaska, while traveling along the Inside Passage.

The tug Samson Mariner struck Rosa Reef roughly five miles north of Ketchikan at 1858 on Feb. 15. The impact punctured a forward fuel tank, allowing about 1,100 gallons of diesel to spill before divers patched the hole soon after the accident.

Walter Stilson, a port captain with vessel owner Samson Tug & Barge, said the tug’s abrupt stop after the grounding caused the 322-foot cargo barge St. Elias to run into its stern, pushing the tug farther onto the rocks.

“It was an unfortunate accident,” he said in a phone interview. “Nobody thinks it’s going to happen to them or wants it to happen to them.”

Stilson praised the Southeast Alaska Petroleum Response Organization (SEAPRO) and Alaska Commercial Divers for their rapid response, noting that the hull was patched within about 40 minutes of the grounding.

“It was one of the quickest responses I’ve ever seen,” he said.

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the cause of the grounding, which occurred just off the beach on Gravina Island. Five people were on board the tug at the time and no one was injured, according to Coast Guard spokesman Jon-Paul Rios.

The 3,000-hp Samson Mariner was en route from Seattle to Prince William Sound with St. Elias in tow. The barge carried a mixed cargo that included shipping containers and other goods.

The grounding punctured the tug’s No. 2 forward fuel tank. Its port-side propeller and rudder were pushed downward during the collision with the barge, which also damaged the tug’s towing pins and the stern rollers, Stilson said. The barge sustained damage to the bow rake above the waterline.

Coast Guard crews from Station Ketchikan responded to the grounding and were later joined by a SEAPRO team and Alaska Commercial Divers. Amak Towing responded with several tugs, and its crewmembers assisted with the booming of the tug, Stilson said.

Dave Owings, general manager of the nonprofit SEAPRO, said his office was notified of the leak about an hour after it happened. Its team arrived on the oil spill response vessel Rudyerd Bay later that night, although by then Amak and Samson crews had deployed sorbent boom.

The team from Alaska Commercial Divers hammered wooden wedges into the 5-inch-long breach while the vessel was on the rocks to stanch the leak, said Greg Updike, who owns the company with his wife. The tug refloated with the tide overnight on Feb. 16 and moved to a mooring ground in nearby Ward Cove along with St. Elias. There, the dive team applied a more durable temporary seal and SEAPRO laid 1,000 feet of hard boom around both vessels.

Sheening was reported in waters around Ketchikan, and SEAPRO crews used sorbent pads and other methods to contain and recover the fuel. Owings said the pads remained in place for a week after the grounding. A small amount of fuel reached the shore.

The Coast Guard estimated about 1,100 gallons of diesel escaped the tug, which was carrying more than 30,000 gallons. St. Elias had 40,000 gallons of fuel on board, but none escaped from the barge.

Crews at Vigor’s Ketchikan shipyard provided temporary repairs for St. Elias’ bow rake and the Coast Guard cleared it to finish its delivery route before undergoing a permanent fix, Stilson said. The Coast Guard also allowed Samson Mariner to sail to Seattle with one engine while under escort.

By Professional Mariner Staff