Runaway dry dock narrowly misses NOAA research vessel

A dry dock berthed at the Signal International Pascagoula River repair yard in Mississippi broke loose in a windstorm on June 2 and hit a nearby wharf in the Port of Pascagoula, nearly colliding with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research vessel Oregon II. Aboard the 240-by-228-foot Signal dry dock was a semisubmersible drilling rig, ENSCO 7500.

The dry dock came to rest against a pier just astern of the research ship Oregon II.
   Image Credit: Photos courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

As the runaway dry dock and rig headed for Oregon II, Lt. Jeremy Adams, executive officer of Oregon II, sounded a general alarm, and the crew of the research vessel retreated to the safety of the wharf. Adams said instruments on his vessel’s bridge measured winds reaching 69 knots as the dry dock and rig bore down on him. Adams said that had it not been for the ebbing tide, which slowed the rig down before it could hit his vessel, the dry dock and rig would have destroyed Oregon II. Instead the dry dock and rig hit an adjacent wharf.

The incident was investigated by the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Office in Mobile, Ala. Investigators discovered two sets of bitts that secured mooring lines on the rig’s lift bars had broken off.

In an unrelated incident, a runaway dry dock struck the Almonaster Bridge in New Orleans on June 6. The dry dock broke away from its wharf when a severe thunderstorm and squall moved into the New Orleans area from the Gulf of Mexico. The 285-by-65-foot dry dock destroyed the bridge’s dolphin and fendering system, resulting in $1 million in damage. The dry dock is owned by Bollinger Gulf Repair LLC.

Deborah D. Keller, director of port development for the Port of New Orleans, said that the Port is currently negotiating a settlement with the insurers.

The bridge was not closed to traffic as a result of the incident.

Image Credit: Photos courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

One of the damaged bitts that allowed the dry dock to break free.

This is the second time a dry dock has broken loose from the Bollinger wharf and struck the Almonaster Bridge. During the summer of 2003, a similar storm passed through the area, causing another dry dock to break from its mooring, this time striking a barge loaded with rock. The dry dock forced the barge into the bridge, where it destroyed the bridge operator’s house. Damages incurred by that incident also totaled $1 million. The Port of New Orleans has since settled the case with Bollinger’s insurers.

Richard Ortego, general manager for the repair yard, would not comment on the most recent accident except to say that the dry dock broke away during the storm.

By Professional Mariner Staff