The Quoddy Tides

Eastport, Maine

2008 Jan 25

Freighter loses power while traveling through passage

by Marie Jones Holmes

The anchors held and control of the ship was maintained as engine repairs were made to the the Dutch-registered ship Alexandergracht, traveling through Head Harbour Passage headed for Eastport's Estes Head pier on January 12. The loss of engine power occurred at approximately 6 a.m. A break in the coolant line that cools the main engine made it necessary to cut the engine.

Gerald Morrison of Eastport Pilots USA, who was bringing in the ship, said he had about five minutes notice, so he had a chance to plan what to do. "We had to shut the main engine down, but I still had my bow thruster, and I had two anchors, and I had the rudder. I maintained control of the vessel, and everything went fine." Morrison says he had ordered a tugboat for this vessel, and it was on standby anyway. It came out immediately to assist. Morrison says he communicated with the U.S. and Canadian coast guards, the Marine Safety Institute and Fundy Traffic in Saint John. He notes that the current was at full ebb coming on the bow at about three and a half knots, and "I was inbound right off Wilson's Beach, right in the middle of the channel where I should be."

Describing his actions, Morrison says, "After the vessel came to a stop, I was in about 292 feet of water, and with that depth of water you can't let your anchors free-fall. I had to back them down a way. I backed down my port anchor about 100 feet, and then we let that go, and by then she started drifting back. We let the second anchor go to help slow our speed down, and we got both anchors down." The pilot says the noise from the anchor chain woke people on Campobello, causing residents to think the ship had gone aground.

Discussing the drifting, Morrison states, "When you have approximately 300 feet of water, it takes awhile for the ship to slow down, especially when you put on about 700 feet of chain." He says that is why it looked like the ship was drifting back; it was taking the slack out of the chain. Several Campobello and Deer Island residents reported grinding noise and drifting.

Chief James Malcolm of the U.S. Coast Guard Station Eastport comments, "We were dispatched to go out and observe the situation and report the status of the vessel back to the Portland sector." The U.S. Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office in Belfast sent an inspection team that inspected the vessel to be certain that it was ready for entry with its full machinery plant up and running. Malcolm says once that had been determined the ship had to wait for the next high tide to weigh anchor and proceed to Estes Head. Malcolm confirms that the ship had not gone aground.

According to Heather Ann McLean, spokesperson for NB Power, the anchoring of the ship did not pose any danger to the power cable that is submerged in deep water between Campobello and Deer Island. McLean says, "We were made aware of the anchoring of the Alexandergracht in waters off Campobello. We were contacted by the Eastport Port Authority as a courtesy. We were aware of the situation, and there were no issues of concern." She declines, for security reasons, to disclose the location of the cable. However, some charts do show where the cable is located. McLean says there are backup measures for situations involving damaged cable lines, but, again for security reasons, she declines to say anything more about the measures.

Morrison says liquified natural gas (LNG) companies recently had the pilots take safety training to demonstrate that it is possible to take LNG ships through Head Harbour Passage. Part of the training was a situation where a ship loses the main engine, and the ship must be brought under control and put at anchor. He says, with an LNG ship, there would be four tugs available to bring the ship in. "I wouldn't have had to wait 20 minutes for the tug to come. I wouldn't have had to put my anchors down." Morrison says he would have been able to continue en route with the tugboats.

As to reports of a possible cover-up concerning the incident, Morrison says there was no cover-up. He notes that all people had to do was turn their radio on to VHF channel 14 that was in use at the time. "They could have had it minute by minute."

Members of Save Passamaquoddy Bay-Canada are calling on Transport Canada to investigate the incident, which occurred in Canadian waters. Morrison says the incident has been well documented, and Fundy Traffic and the U.S. Coast Guard have all the information concerning the incident.

Both Save Passamaquoddy Bay-Canada and Save Passamaquoddy Bay-U.S. are asking their respective coast guards to review this incident and provide a complete report. Linda Godfrey of Save Passamaquoddy Bay-U.S. says, "If this incident had not been witnessed by island residents, the media or the public, we may have never known about it. What other incidents have happened that have gone under the public radar? There are still too many pieces of the puzzle that don't fit together."


© 2008 The Quoddy Tides
Eastport, Maine
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.