Passengers hurt when N.C. ferry exits channel, grounds on sandbar

A ferry connecting mainland North Carolina with a resort island near Wilmington ran aground in the Cape Fear River, injuring several passengers.

The 64-foot Bald Head Island ferry Adventure was carrying 53 passengers and three crew when it ran onto a sandbar at about 0900 on Dec. 17, 2013. At least 14 passengers needed medical attention after the vessel came to an abrupt halt, and at least one was hospitalized.

Lt. Lane Munroe of U.S. Coast Guard Sector North Carolina in Wilmington said the ferry ran aground outside a marked navigational channel.

Investigators issued subpoenas for “phone records and other records” pertaining to the accident, he said. The cause is still under investigation.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather buoy located near Wilmington registered wind speeds of 7 mph with gusts up to 10 mph at 0900. Other weather conditions were not available.

The 150-passenger Adventure left Southport, N.C., for the 4-nm route to Bald Head Island shortly before 0900. The grounding occurred about 10 minutes into the 22-minute journey near Battery Island.

Several passengers were thrown to the deck when the ferry became stuck in the sand. According to a 911 transcript released to local media, at least one person appeared to suffer a broken nose. The Coast Guard declined to comment on the passengers’ injuries.

Coast Guard Sector North Carolina dispatched a 47-foot motor lifeboat and a 25-foot response boat from Coast Guard Station Oak Island and diverted the cutter Bayberry to the grounding.

Crew aboard Bayberry used its shallow-water skiff to transport 14 injured passengers from Adventure to other Coast Guard vessels, which carried them back to Southport. The remaining passengers were taken to the Bald Head Island ferry Ranger.

Bald Head Island crews tried to refloat Adventure at high tide a day after the accident. Ultimately, the company hired a crew from Moran Towing’s Wilmington location to free the vessel under the direction of the Coast Guard.

Crew aboard the 3,900-hp Moran tugboat Cape Hatteras tied a line around the ferry and pulled it off the sandbar at about 0830 on Dec. 19, during high tide.

“We clutched ahead easy on one engine and it pulled it right off,” said Pat Bailey, Moran’s general manager in Wilmington.

About 10 minutes later, he said, the ferry was up and running again. It sailed under its own power to the Wilmington Marine Center.  

Adventure is one of several ferries owned by Bald Head Island Transportation Inc., which operates about 16,000 crossings a year between Southport and Bald Head Island. Joyce Fulton, Bald Head Island’s director of communications, said the company is cooperating with the Coast Guard investigation.

She declined to comment on the accident, which caused only minor damage to Adventure.

By Professional Mariner Staff