Small cruise ship is intentionally grounded after hitting object in Intracoastal Waterway

The Army Corps of Engineers suspects the object that holed the ship may be part of an old barge or fender system. (Courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District)

A 207-foot cruise ship was holed by an unusual, uncharted wooden object in the early morning of Nov. 8 and was forced to ground out on the Intracoastal Waterway in Virginia, about two nautical miles north of the Pungo Ferry Bridge.

On board Spirit of Nantucket were 66 passengers and crew.

The passengers and crew were rescued and transferred to the Pungo Ferry Marina in Virginia Beach by two 41-foot utility boats from U.S. Coast Guard Station Portsmouth. There were no injuries.

Spirit of Nantucket struck a wooden object about 40 feet long and14 feet high, according to Joel Scussel, a civil engineer for the Norfolk District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Spirit of Nantucket is owned by West Travel Inc. and operated by Cruise West of Seattle. The vessel was on a 10-day cruise from Alexandria, Va., to Charleston, S.C.

The object was right in the middle of the 12-foot-deep channel, at a depth of about 7 feet 6 inches, according to Scussel. After striking the object, the vessel’s rudder was bent upwards. The bent rudder created a foot-long hole in the aftermost bulkhead in the after-steering compartment, according to Saunders.

The quick thinking of Spirit of Nantucket’s captain saved the vessel from sinking. “Once the captain realized that his vessel was taking on water, he made what I would call a split-second decision to run the vessel aground,” said Petty Officer Christopher Evanson, of the Coast Guard’s 5th District, in Portsmouth, Va. “That decision led to every single person and passenger and member of the crew on the vessel to be taken off safely.”

The vessel grounded about one-tenth of a mile from where it struck the object.

The vessel was refloated at about 0800 on Nov. 10.

It took Crofton Industries, of Portsmouth, Va. all day on Nov. 10 to raise the object, which was placed on a barge at about 2130. Those who first saw the object thought it might be part of an old blockade chain.

However, Scussel said the object was likely part of an old barge or fender system, dumped in this part of the Intracoastal Waterway. In addition to the large wooden beams, there are threaded bolts going through it and a huge steel I-beam in the center.

“The threaded bolts is what gave it away for the people in our office,” said Scussel about the age of the object.

In a horseshoe-shaped part of the waterway, on the west side of the channel, was a dump for old barges and other debris in the 1960s, he said.

Scussel believes that it broke free from the dump and moved into the channel as a result of a storm surge.

By Professional Mariner Staff