Sunday, March 18, 2018

Local tugs assist

Although details are sketchy and accounts are conflicting (and some obviously wrong) two local tugs and the Canadian Coast Guard came to the assistance of a ship in trouble off Nova Scotia at the end of last week. The cargo ship Nordika Desgagnés had a steering problem while outbound from the Gulf of St.Lawrence east of Louisbourg. Reportedly bound for Sydney, Australia, the ship called in with its problem March 13. A storm was passing through the area at the time, and conditions must have been very poor with extreme high winds and seas.

CCGS Sir Wilfred Grenfell was first on the scene. Although based in  Newfoundland, it has been working out of Halifax this winter.

Built in 1985 in Marystown, NL, as an anchor handling / tug / supplier, on spec for the Newfoundland government, it was acquired by the Coast Guard and converted for Search and Rescue work. It was also upgraded to Ice Class I and fitted out for firefighting and equipped with survivor accommodation, including hospital.

Some reports indicate that the Grenfell took the Nordika in tow, but this seems unlikely. CCG ships are not normally equipped or mandated to tow vessels except in extreme circumstances. However under a new program recently announced, CCG ships are to be equipped with "towing kits" (whatever ever that may mean). Certainly a ship like Sir Wilfred Grenfell, with 12,860 bhp would be quite a capable towing vessel if it carried the right gear to tow.

Transport Desgagnés acquired Nordika Desgagnés a year ago, for use in northern supply work. Built in 2010 by Tianjin Xingang as  BBC Oder the 12,974 grt, 16,953 dwt ship is equipped with three 60 tonne cranes. As with many Desgagnés ships, it is chartered out bareboat for most of the year and brought back under Canadian flag from July to October during the northern re-supply season. A the time of this incident the ship is flying the Barbados flag, and is likely working for BBC Chartering.

Reports indicate that Sir Wilfred Grenfell handed off standby duties to the icebreaker CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent  which was off Sydney headed for the Magdalen Islands at the time.  How long it carried on these duties is not known to me. Sir Wilfred Grenfell stood by off Eddy Point at the entrance to the Strait of Canso to relieve the Louis at some point.

Desgagnés apparently put out the call for a tug, and Atlantic Larch, based in Halifax, was sent to the scene. The 4,00 bhp ASD tug is fitted out with a towing winch  in addition to the shiphandling winch forward, and is considered the "outside" tug in the Halifax fleet of Atlantic Towing Ltd.

It is reported that the Atlantic Larch secured a tow line to the ship. It is not clear what happened then, but either the line parted or there was some other reason that caused Atlantic Larch to break off the tow and head for Port Hawksbury. (The original destination was given as Sydney, but that was upwind and likely to be more difficult).

It was then that the 7,000 bhp Atlantic Tern was called in from its standby duties off Sable Island, to take over the tow. This it apparently did and safely delivered the Nordika to the paper mill dock in Port Hawksbury early Saturday March 17.

Atlantic Tern is much rebuilt from its original appearance as Canmar Supplier II when it was built in 1975 by Vito Steel Boat in Delta, BC. Fitted with two Nohab Polar engines driving CP props it was an ice class anchor handler with FiFi1 for use in the Beaufort Sea.  In 1998 it became Rem Supporter for the Norwegian company Remoy then in 2005 Thor Supplier for Faroese owners Thor P/F. In the meantime it had been rebuilt with a raised forepeak and its wheelhouse extended aft. Atlantic Towing acquired the boat in 2012 and initially renamed it Atlantic Birch II. However as it was attached to Atlantic's offshore support vessel fleet , they gave it a more appropriate bird name in 2013. 

Ships working through ice frequently strain their steering gear or even jam their rudders while backing, especially with an inexperienced crew. That is one possibility of how the ship "lost" its steering. It could also be the strain of weather, or any one of a number of reasons. (The tanker Australian Spirit lost its rudder completely closer to Halifax in December 2014.)

However it has to be said that although there was a speedy Coast Guard response, there was not a large towing vessel available to assist. Fortunately for all involved the weather improved dramatically and a tug was found to assist, but it does not take much to imagine more severe conditions where even a 7,000 bhp supply tug would not have been adequate. Calls for an Emergency Towing Vessel program for the east coast have apparently fallen on deaf ears. Either that or British Columbia called louder - they are getting ETVs.


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