Tanker breached, anchor line snags sailboats in NH grounding

Chem Venus

A loaded tanker left the shipping channel and struck a ledge before running into three unmanned sailboats moored at a yacht club near Portsmouth, N.H.

The 477-foot tanker Chem Venus was downbound in the Piscataqua River when its bow struck Goat Island Ledge at about 1550 on June 29. As the tanker backed off the charted shoal, its anchor line caught several sailboats moored at the Kittery Point Yacht Club.

Two tugboats were escorting the tanker downriver at the time of the incident. A pilot also was on board, the Coast Guard said.

Authorities are still trying to determine the cause of the accident, which put a gash in the tanker’s hull but did not result in pollution or injuries.

“Was it human error or a mechanical issue or some kind of issue that caused it? That will all be part of the investigation,” said Coast Guard Lt. David Bourbeau, who is stationed in southern Maine.

Chem Venus departed the River Road Terminal in Newington, N.H., for England with a load of used vegetable oil and chemicals. The ship left the channel while making a dogleg turn in a windy section of the Piscataqua between Peirce Island and Seavey’s Island, home of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Video taken by a jogger shows the ship failing to negotiate the tight turn.

Moran Towing’s 3,200-hp tug Mary M. Coppedge and 3,005-hp Drum Point provided the escort. The tug on the starboard quarter released its line just before the tanker struck the ledge located outside the channel within 100 feet of Goat Island.

“The towline never snapped. It was let go because (the) tugboats didn’t want to go aground,” Bourbeau said.

Dick Holt Jr., general manager of Moran’s Portsmouth office, declined to comment pending the ongoing investigation. Attempts to reach the Portsmouth Pilots were not successful.

After the ship struck the ledge, it appeared to bounce backward toward the channel. The ship also went full astern to move off the ledge. As the vessel backed up, it snagged several sailboat moorings along the Kittery Point Yacht Club.

Marcia Brown, commodore of the 180-member club located on Goat Island, said Chem Venus hit at least three boats and possibly a fourth. The tanker then dragged the unmanned boats about 200 feet as it backed off the ledge.

“One was totaled,” Brown said in a phone interview, adding that the ship’s anchor line caught that vessel’s winch, wiping out the boom and mast. 

“I know at least one, the one that lost its mast and boom, has spider cracks throughout the hull because it was dragged quite a ways,” she said. “I am not sure if the other two are totaled as well. I have not spoken to the owners of those vessels yet.”

Chem Venus’ bow struck the ledge on the starboard side, causing a 3-by-10-foot tear in the hull. The vessel took on water in the forepeak and No. 1 centerline ballast tank, Bourbeau said.

After the incident, the vessel traveled under its own power to an anchorage just offshore. Divers inspected the hull and authorities then allowed it to continue for England to offload cargo. From there, it was bound for Rotterdam for repairs.

By Professional Mariner Staff