Towline snaps, barge runs aground and dumps load of timber

A log barge off Nova Scotia ran aground and spilled its cargo after its towline parted in heavy weather, leaving the vessel stuck for 20 days.

The Nov. 10, 2010, accident in the Northumberland Strait involved the 325-foot Sault au Cochon, which was towed by the 89-foot tugboat Florence M. The owner of the vessels is McKeil Work Boats Ltd. of Hamilton, Ontario.

The tow was carrying a load of pulp logs from Anticositi Island when the towline parted the night of Nov. 9 as the tug approached Pictou, Nova Scotia. Weather in Northumberland Strait was reported to be winds of 39 knots with nearly 12-foot seas.

The barge was swept aground with the waves striking it broadside, said Joe LeClair, superintendent of environmental response for the Canadian Coast Guard, Maritime Region. The seawater swamped and flooded it by the stern, leaving it listing at a 15° angle. With the stern down, water flooded over the combings into the open holds, releasing logs into the ocean.

Because most of the port side tanks of Sault au Cochon were breached, the barge will be scrapped, said Tom Paterson, McKeil’s marketing coordinator.

“She’s seen the end of her days,” he said.

About 4,000 metric tons of eight-foot logs floated free. They drifted and washed up along the shore for more than 12 miles.

With three generators, a bow thruster, a large material handler and a gantry crane on board, the barge was carrying about 1,950 gallons of fuel. Fifteen oil drums were washed over the side. Thirteen were empty and eventually all but two were recovered.

On Nov. 12 and 13, McKeil’s crews removed most of the hydraulic and lube oil from the equipment and pumped out the forward tanks. The rear tank — with 83 gallons of fuel in it — was inaccessible as the stern was partly submerged, so that tank was sealed.

The salvage plan took about 10 days to complete, LeClair said. A second barge, Jean Raymond, was brought alongside and 400 tons of logs were offloaded onto it. On Nov. 28, a jack-up rig and platform with six legs was secured to Sault au Cochon, and more logs were removed to deck level. Flooded compartments were pumped out.

Despite the loss of the barge, McKeil was pleased with the final outcome.

“We were concerned about our people and the environment,” he said. “In the end nobody got hurt and the wood was recovered and we were happy to recover it.”

Sault au Cochon was finally leveled off, towed in and tied up in Pictou on Nov. 30.

“We had a good plan,” Paterson said. “Salvage was fairly simple. They threw pumps into the cargo hold and stabilized her by putting water into starboard tanks. We were able to tow her in. She was in a delicate state coming into Pictou.”

Michel Drouin

By Professional Mariner Staff