Two bulk carrier groundings in the US in one week

Bulk carrier Genco Auvergne grounded in the Columbia river near Skamokawa Vista Park, Oregon, US. Credit: Martin Wright

Two bulk carriers ran aground after losing their power off the coasts of Virginia and Oregon, US, on 30 September and 1 October, respectively.

The recent incidents, including the Wakashio grounding, have caused speculation over whether COVID-19 is leading to a rise in ship accidents.

The Panama-flagged Hong Dai ran aground off the seabed in Norfolk, Virginia. The US Coast Guard (USCG) aided the vessel and seven tugs were sent to refloat Hong Dai on 2 October. The vessel was towed to the Norfolk anchorage for an underwater survey to assess the damage.

Hong Dai was carrying 820,000 litres (180,000 gallons) of low-sulphur fuel, diesel, and lube oil on board. No pollution and injuries were reported in the incident. According to the IHS Markit AISLive ship tracking portal, the vessel resumed its journey on 4 October to Praia Mole, Brazil.

The second bulk carrier, Marshall Island-flagged Genco Auvergne, also lost power and had a soft grounding in the Columbia river near Skamokawa Vista Park. The USCG responded immediately and three tugs refloated the vessel hours later. Genco Auvergne was carrying 2,700,000 litres (600,000 gallons) of fuel and grains. No spills, serious damage, nor crew injury were reported.

According to IHS Markit data, the vessel is en route to Busan, South Korea, and will arrive on 18 October.

These incidents, along with the Wakashio grounding off the coast of Mauritius on 25 July, suggest a rise in bulk carrier groundings. While it could be thought that fatigued crew working over their contract periods due to COVID-19 travel restrictions may be behind the rise in incidents, experts do not agree.  “I’m not convinced that these incidents have anything to do with fatigue,” Matt Turner, AFNI, a former Paris MoU PSC Officer (UK), told SAS. “Acute fatigue may occur after insufficient rest periods, but cumulative fatigue will occur over longer periods, but, bearing in mind it’s not uncommon for crew of many bulk carriers to normally complete contracts of 11 months, it’s questionable whether a 10–20% increase in tour length would lead to an increase in cumulative fatigue.”

Turner suggested that these groundings may in part due to the increase in remote audits and surveys where things are being missed. In addition, Turner feels the lack of crew change may have led to seafarers feeling even more remote from their employers. “This may in turn be leading to a sustained reduction in motivation and enthusiasm of seafarers to do any more than they see as absolutely necessary,” said Turner.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) stated that until a proper investigation into these incidents is carried out, no conclusions can be drawn. “Any incident is a tragedy and we as an industry will continue to do all we can to drive up standards,” Jonathan Spremulli, principal director of ICS, told SAS. “To ensure that the best standards are put in place, we need all incidents to be thoroughly and robustly investigated and detailed reports to be made available as soon as possible, so that lessons can be learnt and appropriate actions taken to prevent similar occurrences.”