Ship full of logs has steering casualty, slams into Columbia River dock

A log carrier lost steering and crashed into a loading dock, forcing closure of the Columbia River due to a large amount of wreckage in the water.

The accident involving Susaki Wing happened at 1753 on April 22 on the lower Columbia River. The 580-foot ship struck the loading dock at the Georgia-Pacific paper mill at Wauna, Ore.

The Panama-flagged vessel was outbound from Longview, Wash. The pilot aboard thought the steering problems was caused by a stuck rudder.

Debris from a Georgia-Pacific paper mill dock covers the bow of the log carrier Susaki Wing, which crashed into the dock as a result of a steering casualty in the Columbia River. (Kristin Lee photo)

"The ship was less than a mile from the paper mill dock when the helmsman indicated that the rudder was to port and not responding," said Capt. Paul Amos, president of the Columbia River Pilots. "The pilot ordered the engine stopped, and emergency full astern, and the anchor dropped. The engine did not respond, but the crewmembers were able to drop the anchor and then run aft for cover."

Visibility was good and the tide incoming when the fully loaded Susaki Wing entered the Wauna Reach at 1750, but the river current was strong.

The crash's impact destroyed over 100 feet of dock, tore off the front of the transit shed, and drove a moored house barge under the structure. Due to the large amount of debris in the water, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Columbia River closed the river until 1200 the next day. There were no injuries and no visible fuel spill.

Residents on Welcome Slough on Puget Island, a half-mile away from the mill, reported hearing the ship's horn being sounded continuously to alert any workers on the shore, followed by a sound resembling an explosion.

After Susaki Wing struck the shore, the current swung the stern downstream. With the starboard anchor set, the ship came to a halt facing upstream close to shore. A Coast Guard MH-60 helicopter and a 25-foot response boat were dispatched from Astoria. The Clatsop County Marine Patrol and local medical and fire crews also responded.

About 100 feet of the dock, including its transit shed, are left in shambles. (Kristin Lee photo)

The 3,500-hp tug Daniel Foss was in the vicinity and was first to arrive, followed by two Shaver Transportation tugs, the 2,700-hp Columbia and 3,200-hp tractor Vancouver. All three tugs stood by while the Coast Guard assessed the situation and ordered drug and alcohol tests for the ship's crew.

The Coast Guard checked the main engine, steering systems and hull damage. The ship's steering was found to be operable, and at 1600 the vessel was allowed to proceed under its own power to the authorized anchorage 20 miles upstream in Longview, with all three tugs made up.

The Army Corps of Engineers conducted a survey of the waterway the next morning and determined it was safe for shipping to resume. Susaki Wing remained at anchor while the Coast Guard and representatives of the owners, insurers and classification society continued their investigations and until a berth was available in Portland. The ship continued upstream escorted by Vancouver to the Ash Grove Cement Terminal, where the bow was cleared of debris and damage to the bow inspected. Some plating above the waterline was replaced at the dock and all work was approved by classification society ClassNK (Nippon Kaiji Kyokai).

Lt. Peter J. Raneri, of the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Unit in Portland, reported that a formal board of inquiry into the accident was held on April 29.

"During the inquiry, the ship's officers stated that the steering had been regained seconds before the ship struck," Raneri said. Susaki Wing was allowed to depart for Asia. The official report on the accident, with the specific cause of the steering loss, is not expected for several months.

A month after the incident, Georgia-Pacific spokeswoman Kristi Ward said her company still couldn't transport materials on the river.

"Fortunately, the accident happened during a shift change, so no one was hurt," Ward said. "We have replaced the barge service with a fleet of over 100 trucks to transport our products to our hub in Portland."

Ward said Advanced American Construction was hired to clear the site of sunken debris and broken pilings. No schedule for reconstruction had been established.

Built in 1997, Susaki Wing has a deadweight of 31,800 tons. It is operated by NYK Global Bulk. A representative at the company's U.S. office in New Jersey declined to comment on the casualty.

By Professional Mariner Staff