St. Lawrence Seaway bulk carrier runs aground, probably because of steering error

Part of the St. Lawrence Seaway was closed for two days when a bulk carrier ran aground after a crewmember misread the ship’s rudder indicator.

Federal Kivalina grounded May 27 near Wellesley Island, N.Y. The 656-foot vessel, built in 2000, was carrying 23,000 metric tons of canola seeds. 

According to U.S. Coast Guard statements, the captain of the Hong Kong-flagged Federal Kivalina reported the steering problem to the Coast Guard and to the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. (SLSDC). The crew of the freighter dropped three anchors to slow its drift.

Kivalina’s operator, Montreal-based FedNav, said a crew mistake was suspected to be a factor in the grounding.

“All the indications are human error leading to the malfunction of the rudder indicator, but we can’t say more as the matter is still under investigation,” FedNav spokeswoman Louise Fabris said in a statement.

At 1400, a Jefferson County, N.Y., 911 dispatcher notified a watchstander at Coast Guard Sector Buffalo of an adrift freighter in the vicinity of Wellesley Island and the Thousand Island Bridge. Upon notification, the Coast Guard launched a response crew from Coast Guard Station Alexandria Bay and Marine Safety Detachment Massena. There were no reported injuries to the crew and no pollution was reported. 

Vehicle traffic on the Thousand Island Bridge was suspended for about 10 minutes until it became clear that the vessel had veered away from the bridge and had deployed its anchors to stop the drift.

The motor vessel remained anchored upriver, about one-third of a mile from the Thousand Island Bridge, while a dive team conducted an underwater hull survey May 27 and 28 and determined the vessel was aground but stable.

In an interview with Professional Mariner, Petty Officer 2nd Class Levi Read at the Coast Guard District 9 public affairs office indicated that although Federal Kivalina did touch bottom, it was not severely aground.

“The bow of the ship was touching ground but it was not a hard grounding,” he said, adding that the investigation continues.

A salvage team boarded the freighter and completed a review of the hull inspection. The Coast Guard reviewed the salvage plan while navigation in the St. Lawrence Seaway remained suspended until vessels could resume safe transits of the area.   

Coast Guard personnel approved the salvage plan early May 29 and the salvage team immediately went to work to remove the vessel. Two tugboats from Montreal were dispatched and the vessel was removed from its resting spot near the Thousand Island Bridge by a contracted salvage crew and the two tugs.

By Professional Mariner Staff