Oil tanker dented after ‘hard landing’ with new tugboat in Valdez

An oil tanker docked at the Valdez Marine Terminal in April. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

The U.S. Coast Guard in Valdez is investigating an accident that happened early Wednesday morning involving a new tugboat and an oil tanker.

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The Coast Guard is characterizing the incident as “minor;” no oil was spilled and no injuries were reported.

But it comes at a time of intense scrutiny for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, which operates the trans-Alaska pipeline and the Valdez Marine Terminal, and the tugboat’s operator, the Louisiana-based Edison Chouest Offshore. This summer, Alyeska is replacing Crowley Marine Services with Edison Chouest as its spill response and prevention contractor in Prince William Sound.

According to Coast Guard Lieutenant Carlos Quintero, the tug called the Ingot, hit the tanker during a docking maneuver.

“The Ingot made the routine approach on the tanker, which consists of having the bow of the tug lean and touch perpendicular against the hull of the tanker,” Quintero said.

It was during this process that Quintero said “it was reported that minor damage was sustained.”

Alyeska reports that after the two vessels made “a hard landing and metal-to-metal contact,” the tanker ended up with a dent 20 inches long, six inches wide and three inches deep.

Joe Lally with the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, a watchdog group that is closely monitoring the transition from Crowley to Edison Chouest, said tugs and tankers commonly make contact during docking maneuvers.

“It happens. I think it was sort of unique in that it was struck hard enough to cause the dent,” Lally said.

Alyeska spokesperson Michelle Egan said Alyeska ordered an immediate investigation of the incident. Based on Alyeska’s preliminary review, it has ruled out mechanical issues or vessel design as the cause. But Egan said it’s not necessarily the tugboat captain’s fault — two other parties, the master of the tanker and the pilot, also play key roles in the docking process.

“We don’t know where the breakdown occurred,” Egan said.

Egan said Alyeska is taking measures to prevent another incident, including slowing the speed of the vessels and increasing the level of communications during docking and undocking.

“Scrapes and dents are not unheard of,” Egan said in an email. “Even so, we don’t want to see damage to either vessel and we will learn what happened in this case and take action to reduce the risk of it happening again.”

Egan said the damaged tanker was cleared to load after an inspection. It departed Valdez on Thursday.