FreightWaves Classics articles look at various aspects of the transportation industry’s history. If there are topics that you think would be of interest, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The many industries that make up the world of freight have undergone tremendous change over the past several decades. Each week, FreightWaves explores the archives of American Shipper’s nearly 70-year-old collection of shipping and maritime publications to showcase interesting freight stories of long ago.
In this week’s edition, from the March 2004 issue of American Shipper (virtual pages 24-26), FreightWaves Flashback looks back at the deadly capsizing of two vessels in the project cargo industry.
Two recent vessel accidents have drawn considerable attention from the project cargo industry.
In the midafternoon of Dec. 9, the Stellamare, a 289-foot project cargo ship owned by Jumbo, a Dutch shipping company, was loading a generator in the Port of Albany, New York. The 18-man crew used the vessel’s onboard cranes to lift the second of two locomotive-size, 308-ton power units made by General Electric in Schenectady, New York.
A group of longshoremen on the docks watched as the cranes began to lower the generator into a hold on the Stellamare. Without any warning, the ship tilted to the left, its tipping slowed by mooring lines. Eight crewmen lost their footing and fell into the Hudson River, from which they were rescued by the longshoremen and emergency service personnel. Seven of the crew managed to leap to the dock as the vessel turned over, but three were trapped inside and drowned.
Only once before in the United States, more than a quarter of a century ago, had a project vessel flipped while loading.
U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. John E. Cameron noted that the Stellamare was holding only 20% of its weight capacity, making it vulnerable if an imbalance had occurred in the ship’s ballasting system.
“We have no official comment about what might have happened, pending the completion of an official investigation,” John Hillin, a Coast Guard spokesman, told American Shipper in February. “I think it’s a tragic one-off rather than something that the project cargo industry has to worry about.”
Other maritime sources have questioned whether the vessel’s mostly Russian crew had been trained in proper ballasting techniques.
Jumbo’s insurance company, after paying to have the vessel raised, declared the ship a constructive loss and sold it on Jan. 16 for $125,000 to Empire Harbor Marine Inc. and Port Terminal Ltd. of Albany.
General Electric is repairing the two generators for future reshipment to power plants in Italy and Romania.
On Jan. 19, the Rocknes, a 544-foot bulkship built in 2001, suddenly turned keel-up in a narrow sea channel near Bergen, Norway, killing 18 of its 30-man crew.
Three crew members were extracted alive from the capsized vessel after rescue workers cut a hole in its hull. Others were rescued from the water.
The Rocknes, managed by The Jepsens Group of Bergen, was carrying a load of gravel that had shifted to the right when the vessel turned into the channel, according to pilot Vermund Halhjem.
The Rocknes’ captain, Jan Aksel Juvik, told the pilot, “This isn’t unusual.” A German master sailing on board as part of a training program disagreed as to what effect the cargo shift might have. The two captains discussed the situation, and the German remained nervous about the ship’s stability.
A crewman reported at a later hearing that a computer screen on the bridge of the Rocknes had flashed a warning that something was amiss with machinery used to keep cargo evenly layered in one of the holds. Then, the pilot said, “we felt two small shudders in the ship. The captain said, ‘I think we hit something.’ Afterwards came two stronger shakes. I ordered ‘hard to the right,’ but the ship just kept tilting.”
Halhjem went out on the bridge wing, gripped a railing as the Rocknes turned over, and then clambered onto the vessel’s up-ended keel, where he was rescued by a helicopter. Both captains are among the missing.
Because it was a larger, newer ship and more people died, the Rocknes shocked the industry more than the capsizing of the Stellamare.
Norway Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik ordered a public inquiry that began almost immediately in Bergen.
“I certainly don’t want to second-guess the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board,” said Joseph Srour, general manager of the Sea Bridge Projects Inc., “but two things come to mind. The generator being lifted on the Stellamare may not have been the weight it was originally registered for. The vessel’s center of gravity may not have been defined. That could have also been a factor on the Rocknes.”
“A small ship handling a fairly heavy piece of project can present a very tricky, volatile situation. If you’ve ever stepped off a dock into a fishing boat, you know you can learn about stability real fast,” said Greg Stangel, vice president of marketing at Intermarine.
“Vessels such as Stellamare load every day without capsizing. That makes it all the more important for the industry to know exactly what went wrong in Albany,” Stangel said.
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