Sawmill-industry barge holed off British Columbia, takes on water

A barge loaded with wood chips began listing after a possible collision and had to be moved quickly toward a beach.

The Seaspan Marine Corp. barge towed by the contracted tug North Arm Wrestler started taking on water and listing in the Gulf of Georgia near West Vancouver on Sept. 7, 2011. Two other tugs helped move the disabled vessel close to shore for lightering.

The 168-foot Seaspan 403 was loaded with wood chips from a mill on the Fraser River destined for a pulp mill north of Vancouver. Evidently it received hidden damage to the hull prior to taking on its cargo.

"The barge had suffered a collision previous to loading, and it ruptured the shell plate which was unnoticed before loading," said John Fowlis, vice president of fleet maintenance at Seaspan. "Once the barge was loaded and the hole went below the water line, it took on water. That was noticed by the tug crew and they put some pumps on the barge."

Seaspan doesn’t know exactly when or where the damage happened. The company decided to bring the barge into Vancouver harbor for repair. On that trip, the pumps stopped and the starboard aft rake void started to fill, and the barge listed to a 3.5- to 4° angle.

"The tank filled to a fully flooded condition, and we had to effect a small salvage operation to remove some cargo," explained Fowlis. "We brought an empty barge alongside along with a derrick barge with a bucket loader and offloaded about one-third of the cargo on board into the other barge, and that allowed us to pump the tank out and put a wedge into the hole. With the leak plugged and the tank pumped we then brought the barge into Vancouver Shipyard for repairs."

The lightering operation occurred near the shore off the popular Ambleside seawall in West Vancouver, prompting speculation that the barge had actually been beached.

"We had the barge close to the beach so that if it continued taking on water we could nudge it ashore and it wouldn't sink farther," Fowlis said. "It is a standard thing to do in a situation like this, that does happen to us from time to time when you operate 100 chip barges."

Seaspan 403 holds on average a 2,000-ton load of wood chips, Fowlis added. Two tugs were involved in the lightering operation. The original towing tug was the 40-foot, 850-hp North Arm Wrestler. It is not a Seaspan vessel, but was short-term chartered for the job. Assisting tugs were the 56-foot Charles H. Cates VI and Charles H. Cates VIII, both 1,800-hp twin-screw vessels with a bollard pull of 56,000 pounds.

Seaspan's chip barge fleet is dedicated to transporting sawmill byproducts. The barges are used to carry wood chips, sawdust and hog-fuel to pulp and paper mills in coastal British Columbia and Puget Sound in Washington. The chip barges are open, flat-decked and high-sided and are typically discharged by either overhead crane or by front-end loader through a removable stern panel.

By Professional Mariner Staff