Tanker with diesel fuel stranded for 2 weeks after running aground in Northwest Passage

A 362-foot tanker ran aground in the Northwest Passage and remained stuck for two weeks, fueling more concerns about commercial vessels using new Arctic routes that aren’t yet thoroughly charted.

Nanny, owned by the Newfoundland-based Woodward Group, grounded in Simpson Strait near Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, on Sept. 1, 2010. The Canadian Coast Guard said the vessel did not spill any cargo.

Nanny was on a voyage to resupply Arctic communities. The tanker was carrying 2.47 million gallons of diesel fuel. Almost 1.3 million gallons were transferred to the 497-foot tanker Tuvaq during a lightering operation. Nanny then was able to move away from the shoal Sept. 15 without assistance from tugboats.

After an inspection indicated no hull damage, Tuvaq transferred the cargo back to Nanny, which continued its resupply duties.

The grounding — and other recent incidents in the Northwest Passage — show that more knowledge is needed to determine exactly where the safe water is. Canadian hydrographic officials are attempting to ascertain from vessel operators which routes interest them, so they can survey the bottom in advance.

Another ship owned by the Woodward Group — the 299-foot fuel tanker Mokami — had run aground just a month earlier near Pangnirtung. Only days before the Nanny grounding, the 331-foot cruise ship Clipper Adventurer struck a submerged ledge in 10 feet of water near Kugluktuk, forcing 118 passengers to fly home.

Vessel operators must choose their Arctic routes carefully, said Savithri Narayanan, hydrographer/ director-general of ocean science for the Canadian Hydrographic Service. CHS has a chart maintenance/production program to keep its products up-to-date as new information is acquired.

“A professional mariner would not consider a route navigable unless it had been surveyed with appropriate charts published,” Narayanan wrote in an e-mail message to Professional Mariner.

“However, the prospect of vessels wishing to travel into areas of questionable charting remains a concern for the Canadian Hydrographic Service. We are consulting with Arctic mariners to understand where those emerging routes are, and working to complete surveys in advance of those increasing requirements.”

Narayanan says there are arguably five or more routes that could be taken in transiting what is commonly referred to as the Northwest Passage. Vessels should follow routes that have adequate charting, she said.

“In some locations along those routes, however, modern hydrography exists only in narrow corridors, requiring mariners to carefully stay on a route of proven safety,” she said. “Some of the alternate routes through the Northwest Passage are not surveyed adequately for safe navigation.”

Authorities did not specify whether Nanny was in such an area. Woodward Group did not respond to calls from Professional Mariner seeking comment.

There were no reports of any damage to Nanny, said Melanie Orlowski, a spokeswoman for Transport Canada. The agency’s National Aerial Surveillance Program aircraft conducted fly-overs and detected no leakage or pollution in the water. On Sept. 15, a Transport Canada marine safety inspector completed an internal hull survey and found no significant safety deficiencies.

Because there was no release of fuel, the Canadian Coast Guard decided not to take action, said Joanne Munroe, a Coast Guard planning officer.

Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada investigators arrived and interviewed the master and crew. The TSB decided not to pursue the investigation further, said TSB spokesman Chris Krepski.

The 6,544-gross-ton Nanny was built in 1993 by Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. in South Korea. It has a 62-foot beam and a draft of 33 feet. The single-screw vessel is powered by a 4,050-kW diesel engine.

Michel Drouin

By Professional Mariner Staff