Tanker plows into Savannah LNG terminal

A chemical tanker departing the port of Savannah on a clear night in September, 2000 suddenly veered from the channel and plowed into a LNG terminal, destroying a large section of pier and damaging shoreside machinery.

The chemical tanker Sun Sapphire sustained a 40- by 10-foot gash in its starboard side when it collided with the Elba Island Southern LNG terminal at 2230 on Sept. 20, 2000.

The LNG terminal is not a functional facility-at least not yet; it is slated to be opened for commerce in October 2001, a date that still stands despite the extensive damage, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Initial estimates have suggested $10 million in damage to the facility and approximately $4 million to the ship.

The incident has served as a benchmark in establishing regulations for commercial shipping traffic around the terminal, according to Lt. Cmdr. Mark True, executive officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in Savannah.

“Although it’s hard to say that there is good in an incident like this, the incident has served as a needed wake-up call for this port, since we know exactly what can go wrong in this area. If this had happened a year from now, when there was a ship at the dock it could have been a lot worse,” True said. Plans for the terminal include tug escort for vessels in the vicinity of the pier while a LNG vessel is alongside. “When there is an actual LNG ship moving, we’ll have a ‘moving safety zone’ that no other vessels will be allowed to enter. It will include tug and Coast Guard vessel escort.”

A Coast Guard investigation, which had determined there was no evidence of mechanical failure on Sun Sapphire prior to and during the loss of control, was continuing at press time.

By Professional Mariner Staff