Elaborate plan develops to save grounded freighter

From Duluth to Philadelphia and parts farther yet came a plan Tuesday to rescue the freighter Roger Blough from its grounding in the far eastern edge of Lake Superior. A pair of other Great Lakes Fleet freighters -- the Arthur M. Anderson and Phi...

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Responders place protective boom around the stern of the motor vessel Roger Blough, which ran aground on May 27, near Gros Cap Reefs in Lake Superior, Monday. Responders deployed the boom strictly as a preventative measure around the location of the Blough's fuel tanks. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Cmdr. Merridith Morrison)

From Duluth to Philadelphia and parts farther yet came a plan Tuesday to rescue the freighter Roger Blough from its grounding in the far eastern edge of Lake Superior.
A pair of other Great Lakes Fleet freighters - the Arthur M. Anderson and Philip R. Clarke - will converge on the site of the Blough in Whitefish Bay beginning Thursday, said Mitch Koslow, vice president of engineering for Keystone Shipping Co. in Philadelphia, the central office for the ship’s operator.
Simply, the plan will be to offload iron ore onto the other vessels from the Blough at its currently grounded state near the Gros Cap Reefs, about 10 miles west of Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and the Soo Locks.
“We’re hoping to lighten her to offload as much cargo as needed in order to float the Blough,” Koslow said.
Canadian National Railway, owners of the Blough and eight other vessels in the Great Lakes Fleet, contracts with Keystone to operate its lake freighters. Because American-flag vessels are required to be operated by American companies, Key Lakes Inc., a Keystone field office in Duluth, operates the Duluth-based vessels.
Divers conducted an underwater survey of the Blough on Tuesday in an effort to assess the hull and identify any damage the lake freighter may have sustained while running aground, the U.S. Coast Guard said in its latest news release on the mishap. In another development from over the holiday weekend saga, a National Transportation Safety Board representative arrived Monday and was assisting the U.S. Coast Guard investigators in determining the cause of the grounding, said the Coast Guard in its news release.
The 858-foot Roger Blough ran aground Friday, shortly after noon. In its first comments since the incident, Keystone said it was conducting its own internal investigation. Koslow said that while there were reports of fog in the area at the time of the grounding, and also reports of the Blough attempting to pass another ship that was under a dead tow, it was too soon to assess blame or pinpoint the ship’s captain or crew as responsible.
“There’s obviously a lot of lessons to be learned coming out of it,” Koslow said, “but hopefully we’ll get down to the root cause of the route taken that resulted in this. Any actions against anybody we’ll deal with in the future.”
The captain and crew remained aboard the vessel, Koslow said, along with several representatives from the Houston-based Donjon-SMIT and Connecticut-based ECM Maritime Services - outfits specializing in marine salvage and emergency response. Keystone’s own oil spill response manager and emergency response team also are involved at the scene.
More than 6,000 feet of preventative pollution-control booming was situated around the aft of the vessel over the weekend. The vessel took on water in two forward ballast tanks up to the lake level of 25 feet, Koslow said, but there was no pollution discharge from the aft fuel tanks, which are secure on the interior of the ship - away from the hull.
There were no signs of pollution during a flyover on Sunday morning, and there is a minimal chance of fuel spill, according to a previous news release from the Coast Guard.
“No injuries, no pollution,” Koslow said. “There is a very low risk of pollution.”
The damage appeared to be contained to the forward section of the Blough, but Koslow said even Tuesday’s dive assessment probably would not be able to view the damage. He said it was likely on the bottom of the vessel.
“You never know, it may be sitting in such a place that it ran across the bottom in areas we can see it,” he said.
The Blough left Duluth last week with a full load of iron ore pellets. A self-unloader, the crew has since tested the conveyor and other mechanisms, and the Clarke and Anderson will “fit nicely underneath the Blough in order to transship whatever cargo we need to,” Koslow said.
The 767-foot vessels Clarke and Anderson are scheduled to arrive on scene Thursday and Saturday, respectively.
The teams assembled to address the grounding are using computer models provided by the Houston-based American Bureau of Shipping to develop a plan to refloat the freighter. But Koslow said it’s the physical law of buoyancy, discovered in approximately 250 B.C. by the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes, that will prevail in floating the vessel.
The ultimate plan will be submitted for Coast Guard review prior to employment.
The Blough is grounded at a point where shipping traffic transitions from the open waters of Lake Superior to the smaller channel leading to the Soo Locks. It is not impeding the movement of other ships, previous reports indicated.
The charted depth of the water at the reef where the Blough ran aground ranges from about 17 to 24 feet, according to nautical charts. Those charts indicate the shipping channel into Sault Ste. Marie is maintained at a depth of 28 to 30 feet.
The Blough first sailed in 1972. Its cargo will proceed to Conneaut, Ohio, while the ship will be taken into drydock for repairs at Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay, Wis.
“This industry takes this stuff very seriously,” Koslow said. “There are things in place to react to address it without any damage to the environment, any damage or injury to people or wildlife. These are important factors.”
It was the second freighter to encounter problems on eastern Lake Superior last week. The 730-foot Tim S. Dool, another freighter familiar to the Twin Ports, lost power and went adrift early Thursday northwest of Whitefish Point, the website reported. The crew was able to get some generators working to restore lights, the website reported, but had to be towed back to Sault Ste. Marie. While it remained at dock there on Friday night, the Dool has since arrived at and left Duluth on its way to Hamilton, Ontario, according to marine tracking websites.

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