Grounding Caused by Lack of Ice Experience

John I
John I (Source: Department of Fisheries and Oceans)

Published Jun 11, 2015 7:08 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has released its investigation report into the March 2014 grounding of the bulk carrier John I finding that a lack of experience sailing in ice was a major contributing factor to the accident. 

The John I entered ice-covered waters off the southwest coast of Newfoundland on its way to Montreal, Quebec, from Las Palmas, Spain. After the engine cooling water temperature began to rise, the crew opened the sea water strainer and found it was plugged. As the crew began removing ice and slush from the strainer, water began to overflow from the open strainer box. When the crew attempted to close the leaking sea chest valve to stop the flow of water, its operating mechanism failed. 

Sea water began to enter the vessel in an uncontrolled manner, overflowing into the engine room. The master then ordered the vessel to be blacked out, causing it to drift. 

The investigation found that warmed sea water from the engine cooling system was being partially discharged overboard and partially returned to the main sea water pump suction, rather than being recirculated to the low sea chest to prevent ice buildup. The strainer became plugged with ice and slush. The sea chest valve was prevented from fully closing, likely due to ice buildup, and the valve operating mechanism failed due to overstress when the crew forcibly attempted to close it, which led to the flooding.

The publication Ice Navigation in Canadian Waters is intended to assist vessels operating in ice in Canadian waters, and it provides ice navigation techniques such as the need for engine room suction strainers to be easily removed and kept clear of ice and slush. 

Local regulations also require vessels to be equipped with a system that prevents icing and blockages in the sea chest to ensure a supply of cooling water is maintained. The master received the checklist entitled “Marine Safety Guide Checklist for Operation in Ice Infested Waters” that covered relevant preventative measures to be taken.

Although the master had indicated that all of the precautions included on the checklist had been taken, some important measures to protect the cooling system were not in place, states the report. Furthermore, while the chief engineer had created an onboard checklist for the operation of the sea water cooling system, a copy of the checklist could not be obtained and, therefore, it could not be determined whether the checklist was sufficient to prevent the build-up of ice.

Towing Delay

As the vessel drifted towards the shore, commercial towing assistance was requested, but delayed due to the weather. Upon its arrival on scene, the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) vessel Earl Grey offered to tow the John I away from the shore. Further delays were encountered while the John I's master conferred with the vessel's managing company, the CCG and the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC). 

When the master finally accepted the tow, the first attempt to establish a tow line failed, and the vessel's proximity to the shoals did not allow for completion of a second attempt. The John I then ran aground on the shoals. The crew members were evacuated by helicopter. The vessel's hull sustained minor damage.

The JRCC did not have the authority to direct the master of the John I to accept the tow. Neither the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Environmental Response nor Transport Canada, both of which had the authority to direct the vessel to accept the tow, were actively involved at an earlier stage when it was clear that the time to take action was running out and the environmental risks posed by the vessel going aground were increasing. 

The delay in starting the towing operation was caused both by the master's reluctance to accept the tow and by the way that authorities managed the situation. If all authorities responsible for dealing with an emergency are not involved in a timely and coordinated manner, there is a risk that response options will be limited and the situation will escalate, states the report.

The full report is available here.