The tanker Burgas was at anchor at the Golf 4 anchorage, just inside the Bridge Tunnel on the north side of the channel, when a tug and barge suddenly wrapped themselves around the ship’s anchor chain. The tug False Cape was entering the channel with its barge, SL-119, on a short tow, preparing to bring its laden barge alongside when the flood current apparently set the vessels down on the bow of the anchored ship.
“The master had just relieved the mate in preparation for bringing the barge on the hip. They shortened the hawser just after crossing the Bridge Tunnel and were planning to do the operation after they passed the anchored ship, but the captain must have misjudged the speed of the current. The mate even said ‘Aren’t we a little close to the ship?’ And the next thing they know they’re set right down onto the ship. The barge ended up on one side of the ship’s bow and the tug on the other,” said Lt. Jerry Crooks, senior investigations officer with the Coast Guard in Hampton Roads, Va. “By all accounts the current was running a little stronger than usual, and he underestimated it.”
Crooks said that a pilot navigating a vessel into the area just astern of False Cape reported to the Coast Guard that he believed the current was running at least one knot stronger than normal. It was believed to be running at 2.5 knots.
The tanker suffered an 8-by-4-foot gash in its bow just above the waterline where the starboard side of the barge crashed into the hull after it swung around on the anchor chain. No product was lost, however. The barge, which was loaded with corn, was punctured on the starboard side of the bow rake. The barge was picked up by the tug and beached immediately after the vessels were disentangled. Salvage operations on the barge, effected by Crofton Diving, took several days to patch and refloat the hull. The tanker, which was awaiting final repairs to its boiler, was forced to find another buyer for its cargo after hull repairs delayed its departure further, according to Coast Guard reports. The Coast Guard found that the ship was maintaining a proper watch. At press time the Coast Guard was considering action against the license of the tug’s master. Both drug and alcohol tests proved negative.