The 2014-built capesize bulk carrier LEOPOLD LD arrived in Richards Bay on the first of May 2014 after completing her maiden voyage from Tianjin Xingang Shipbuilding Heavy Industries. She was greeted with quite a bit of fanfare and congratulations from local port authorities as reported by the Zululand Observer.
The Leopold, which has a draft of 17.5 meters, was reportedly loaded with more than 165,000 tones of coal before it departed for the port of Ashqelon in Israel today.
As it was making its way out of port however, it ran aground opposite Naval Island in the Port of Richards Bay. MarineTraffic.com shows its track as deviating at 1606 local time to the south of the shipping channel. Three minutes later it came to a dead stop with the bow well into the shallower water off the south of the channel.
According to radio traffic the vessel suffered engine failure and drifted south in a northeasterly breeze.
At around 1615 two harbor tugs were attached by cables to the fore and aft sections of the vessel. From photographs taken by passing small craft, the ship had dropped an anchor as well.
Not long after, the captain of the vessel informed the port control tower that the engines were again started and in due course the vessel was towed into deeper water and escorted out of the harbor mouth by the tugs.
It then first went to anchor South East of the harbour entrance and later shifted to a position further East by instruction of the port.
It appears as if the tugs had already disengaged from the ship when it lost engine power, as they would have been able to keep the vessel in the channel under such circumstances had they still been in attendance.
From the Pilot flag on the vessel, and the fact that the Pilot Boat was still in attendance, it appears that the Marine Pilot was still aboard the vessel and had not yet disembarked.
Considering Richards bay accommodates capesized vessels, some with a draft of 20 meters, the port has dredged a channel to 22 meters extending 5 miles to sea. This gives very little clearance and considering the total loss of the M/V Smart (with a similar draft), which lost engine power and ran aground while exiting the port in heavy swells last August, the port would have adjusted its practice of disengaging tugs early.
Despite the fact that everyone now knows that the Smart bottomed out in swells, which exceeded the clearance between its hull and the channel bottom, the port still maintains that it ended up on the shoulder of the channel because it lost engine power.
Losing power while in Richards Bay does not seem to be a highly improbable incident either. In fact on 26 August 2013, the RIO NEGRO, a 20,567 ton, 1999-built Hong Kong-flagged general cargo vessel sailed from berth 702 at Richards Bay and was returned to berth 804 after losing power while exiting port.
The risks appear quite obvious. Perhaps its time to reconsider best practices when piloting ships in and out of Richards Bay, and/or determine what exactly is causing engine failures such as this one and ways to mitigate the issue in the future.
Article submitted via Anonymous gCaptain contributor.