Crews start pumping water out of grounded laker
Salvagers are pumping water from the Walter J. McCarthy Jr.'s ballast tanks to refloat the laker, whose engine room flooded Monday. The ship's owners want to refloat it and drain the engine room as soon as possible so freezing water doesn't cause...
Salvagers are pumping water from the Walter J. McCarthy Jr.'s ballast tanks to refloat the laker, whose engine room flooded Monday.
The ship's owners want to refloat it and drain the engine room as soon as possible so freezing water doesn't cause more damage. Work to empty the ship's ballast tanks began Tuesday evening, soon after a needed permit was issued. Once the ship is refloated, divers will be able to determine the extent of the damage to the McCarthy's hull.
Ballast tanks hold lake water to help stabilize the ship when it is empty or lightly loaded.
"Calculations support that the vessel will float regardless of the flooded engine room if de-ballasting occurs," the U.S. Coast Guard said Wednesday in a news release.
Engineers involved in the salvage believe it will take two to three days to complete the de-ballasting, said Rhonda S. Johnson, spokeswoman for GATX, the parent company of the McCarthy's owner, the American Steamship Co.
"Then they will be able to send a diver down to analyze the damage and begin repairs," Johnson said.
The 1,000-foot-long ship's engine room flooded Monday after a submerged object punctured the McCarthy's hull as the ship was backing into a slip at Superior's Hallett No. 8 Dock. The McCarthy's crew closed the engine room's watertight doors and evacuated the room as the ship's stern settled to the bottom in 20 feet of water.
Authorities haven't determined what the ship hit or how large a hole was punched through the hull, although a Coast Guard official guessed it could have been ice or a concrete piling. According to the Coast Guard, the ship suffered a substantial puncture in the vicinity of its stern four to five feet from the vessel's bottom.
The water fills the engine room to a depth of 20 feet, covering the ship's four 3,500-horsepower General Motors Electro Motive Division diesel engines. Response personnel estimate that about 450 gallons of miscellaneous oils have been removed from the flooded engine room, the Coast Guard said. There are an additional 2,500 to 3,000 gallons of oil and fuel in adjacent tanks, engines and generators, but there is no threat of those liquids escaping, the Coast Guard said.
After the ship's hull is patched, the water in the engine room will be pumped to trucks for proper treatment and disposal. Water samples will be collected and tested throughout the salvage process.
Once the engine room is pumped dry, officials will be able to determine if the ship can be repaired where it is or whether it will have to enter dry dock.
"We really won't know until we know the extent of the damage to the engines," Johnson said. "It's always possible you just rebuild the engines right there."
It isn't clear whether the McCarthy will be repaired in time for the start of the 2008 shipping season.
The McCarthy is 1,000 feet long, 105 feet wide and has a dead weight capacity of 62,100 gross tons at a draft of 27.5 feet. The ship transports western coal from Superior to Detroit Edison's St. Clair and Monroe, Mich., power plants. Built as the Belle River by the Bay Shipbuilding Corp. at Sturgeon Bay, Wis., the ship entered service in 1977. It was renamed the McCarthy in 1990 to honor the former chairman of the Detroit Edison Company.
STEVE KUCHERA can be reached weekdays at (218) 279-5503 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .