Propulsion failure causes bulker to ground in St. Lawrence Seaway

A 739-foot bulk carrier ran hard aground in the Saint Lawrence Seaway after one engine went into over-speed while the other engine was shut down for repairs.

After losing propulsion, the downbound CSL Assiniboine exited the channel and grounded north of Buoy 122, upriver of Cardinal, Ontario. The Canada Steamship Lines vessel remained stuck for nearly a week and was the seaway’s most challenging salvage job in years, said Andrew Bogora, St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. spokesman.

“In most groundings, vessels can get out under their own power,†Bogora said. “The grounding of the Assiniboine was somewhat unusual in the amount of effort it took to free the vessel.â€

The Nov. 16, 2009, incident began when the 33,000-metric-ton Assiniboine experienced an exhaust valve failure in an engine, said Ken Potter, manager of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada’s marine investigations office. That engine was isolated and shut down by the crew in preparation for repairs.

While the vessel was maneuvering on one engine using its Kort nozzle steering, that second engine shut down automatically when it went into over-speed due to a sudden reduction in load.

The engineers did manage to start both engines but, as Potter explained, vessels equipped with Kort nozzle steering require propulsion — i.e. propeller wash — in order to steer effectively. By the time propulsion was restored, the vessel had sheered out of the channel and run aground, damaging the No. 2 port ballast tank.

The grounded Assiniboine did not block the shipping channel, but it posed a problem for its owners. The ship was carrying a load of soybeans from Toledo, Ohio, to Baie-Comeau, Quebec. The beans had to be partially unloaded onto barges to lighten the ship before tugboats could pull it astern to deeper water.

Robert Dalley, general manager of the Port of Prescott, said three barges unloaded 4,500 metric tons of soybeans from Assiniboine. Two barges delivered 75 to 85 truckloads of beans to Prescott while a third was towed to Montreal.

The tugs Duga, Ocean Bravo, Ocean Hercule and Ocean Bertrand Jeansonne were the vessels that finally freed the ship Nov. 21, said Frank Montecalvo, director of operations for Ocean Ontario Towing Inc., a subsidiary of Ocean Group Inc.

Following the refloating of Assiniboine, the CSL freighter Rt. Hon. Paul J. Martin came into the Port of Prescott. The rest of the cargo was transferred to Rt. Hon. Paul J. Martin using Assiniboine’s self-unloading conveyors before Assiniboine was towed to dry dock for repairs to its damaged ballast tank.

TSB investigators determined that there were no systemic safety issues underlying the grounding. As a result, they decided to not conduct an investigation or produce a report.

Officials at Montreal-based Canada Steamship Lines did respond to requests for comment.

Michel Drouin

By Professional Mariner Staff