Reactor vessel rolls off barge just before its delivery to a refinery

A 485-ton stainless steel cylinder on its way to an oil refinery fell off a barge and plunged into Puget Sound while a crew was offloading it.

At least one barge crewman was injured in the Dec. 9, 2011, accident near the BP refinery at Cherry Point in Washington state. One end of the 140-foot-long reactor vessel was sticking up out of the water for 12 days.

The tug Iver Foss had transported the cylinder on the freight barge Foss 185 C3 from Everett, Wash., to the Cherry Point area of Ferndale, Wash., when the accident happened at about 0545, said Petty Officer Eric Chandler, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman. The barge is 178 feet long, 50 feet wide and 12 feet deep.

Iver Foss delivered the barge to a beach near the refinery, where a crane crew attempted to unload the reactor vessel for transfer to an amphibious flatbed carrier, which was to roll the huge piece of equipment on a short paved road to the BP facility.

The reactor vessel “rolled off” the barge, the American Salvage Association (ASA) said in a statement. “It landed with one end resting on the sea floor and with the other end just breaking the surface.”

Iver Foss had already departed the area when the accident happened, said Foss Maritime spokeswoman Megan Aukema. The job was in the hands of Barnhart Crane & Rigging Co., which did not respond to a request for comment on the accident. No Foss personnel were involved at that point, Aukema said.

The reactor vessel, with a diameter of 20 feet, was part of a BP project to produce low-sulfur fuel. During shipment of the Korean-made behemoth, it was filled with nitrogen to prevent corrosion and was sealed. The vessel was undamaged, and the nitrogen did not leak. The Washington Department of Ecology said a small amount of fuel spilled when a diesel-powered pump tipped. An electric lift fell into the water.

Chandler said the material did not block navigation. At least one person was hospitalized. Neither the Coast Guard nor the companies specified how serious the injuries were or exactly how many people were hurt.

Global Diving & Salvage retrieved the massive cylinder from 120 feet of water. The company used a remotely operated vehicle to survey the site before developing the salvage plan, which involved two crane barges, the amphibious flatbed carrier and a temporary ramp to the paved road.

“Divers rolled the reactor into the proper orientation, used water jets to expose the pre-existing lifting eye on the bottom edge of the reactor and connected a 400-ton shackle,” the ASA’s statement said.

“Heavy-lift derrick barges were used to successfully lift the reactor to the surface,” the ASA said. “A materials barge was then positioned underneath and the reactor was set in cradles mounted on the transporter, where it was safely delivered back to the owner.”

The salvage was completed Dec. 21. Foss 185 C3 had unspecified damage but was quickly back in service, according to Coast Guard documentation.

By Professional Mariner Staff