Tugs work to free the grounded cargo vessel MSC Altair in the Prince Rupert Harbour on Nov. 24 after the berthed ship’s lines snapped during high winds and inclement weather. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

Tugs work to free the grounded cargo vessel MSC Altair in the Prince Rupert Harbour on Nov. 24 after the berthed ship’s lines snapped during high winds and inclement weather. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

Prince Rupert Port Authority responds to vessel grounding

When incidents occur, there’s always a learning opportunity - Ken Veldman, PRPA

Marine incidents, such as the grounding of the MSC Altair in the Prince Rupert harbour, provide the ability for a real-life response and opportunity for making improvements to practices and procedures, Ken Veldman, vice president, public affairs and sustainability at Prince Rupert Port Authority, said.

The cargo vessel MSC Altair became grounded Nov. 24, on Digby Island, after becoming unmoored from Fairview Terminal during high winds and inclement weather.

“You’re always trying to prevent incidents. When incidents occur, there’s always a learning opportunity,” Veldman said.

A grounding incident caused by a weather-related issue has not happened in Prince Rupert to his recollection and is not a systemic issue, Veldman told The Northern View, on Nov. 26.

“Have we had a vessel ground before? Yes, we have. Very different circumstances and they very rare incidents,” he said, adding it has been almost 10 years since the last grounding occurred to a coal vessel, and between five to 10 years ago when a container ship ran aground. However, neither was from weather-related issues.

Veldman said the grounding of the MCS Altair was a pressure-packed situation that occurred around 2 p.m., and tugs responded quickly, arriving onsite just before 2:30 p.m. The collaboration of all emergency parties involved proved the policies and procedures systems in place work, he said.

“Just to be clear … I’m not going to dive into too much detail, but I’ll confirm a few things. One is that the vessel was fully berthed, and in fact, additional lines had been applied,” he said, noting it is standard practice to use additional tethers in high-wind weather situations.

“[Due to weather conditions] you had those lines essentially snap. The vessel itself continued to have its engines on standby as per procedure. The vessel master was able to immediately apply power. He did a very good job to ensure that the vessel was able to move off the terminal without impacting the terminal or the other vessels.”

Veldman said while the vessel was able to release as safely as possible from the terminal, due to the strong winds, it could not avoid grounding.

“I think that the response to this incident was exceptional. In our opinion, the speed of response, the expertise that was on display, the collaboration between multiple organizations, was outstanding,” he said.

“You never know how an incident is going to be. Preparation is always key. That speaks to the relevant agencies, their crews, their equipment. We’re ready.”

The port runs emergency exercise rehearsals and has procedures to deal with seasons and weather forecasts that ensure resources can be focused if an event occurs, Veldman explained.

Emergency response is enacted even before a vessel becomes grounded, he said.

“The moment a vessel finds itself in that situation, Canadian Coast Guard’s [Marine Communication and Traffic Services] is notified that’s where the joint rescue and coordination centre is pulled in immediately. Tugs are scrambled at that point. Pilots are activated into that situation.”

Due to the quick action and collaboration of emergency response crews, the cargo vessel was refloated by 3:25, Veldman said.

“When I said earlier that preparation is key to emergency response execution — incremental learning and improvement is key to improving safety, and that’s always the way we approach it, as do our organizational partners.”

“This incident will provide us with the ability to obviously evaluate a real-life response and make improvements. Those discussions are already occurring in terms of what that looks like,” Veldman said. “But perhaps more importantly, it also allows evaluation of practices and procedures that will prevent similar incidents from occurring in the first place — with the goal of ensuring this type of incident doesn’t happen again.”

“We will be working with all the organizations involved, including the terminal operators, to look at mooring and berthing procedures. We will implement short term improvements to ensure the goal that doesn’t happen again, but also long-term improvements where they can be identified.”

K-J Millar | Journalist
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