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PostHeaderIcon ... The Stella Mare accident


The Stella Mare accident took place in the Port of Albany, on December 9th, 2003. The result was 3 men dead (let them rest in peace), environmental & operational impact on the port of Albany, and lastly substantial financial loss.  Here is a Google map bird's eye view of the accident's site.

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There is several sources on what went on prior to the uncontrolled roll-over of the vessel while loading a heavy stator . One heavy generator had already been loaded into the same hold and welded to the deck (it came loose during the roll-over). But one quote that caught my eye was this one (from the Professional Mariner web site):


To lift the stator, the ship's ballast tanks were used to create a 2º list to starboard, according to investigators. The cables from the ship's two derricks were hooked to the stator sitting on a rail car alongside the ship. Winches then pulled the slack out of the cables. Ballast was next shifted from the ship's starboard tanks to the port tanks to level the ship, thereby lifting the stator just high enough off the rail car to allow it to be swung over the ship by its two derricks operating in unison.

In bold is the wrong step, that should have never been attempted. Since I have no knowledge of operational details, I must assume here accuracy of the above quote. If so, it is a proof of an operational glitch, call it inadequate operational procedures, incompetence etc.

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This web page (dead link, looking to replace with another, if I can find one) has lots of photographs on Stella Mare's salvage efforts, have a look as it is well worth it. The whole rising off the bottom is covered.

Heavy lifting, at its extreme, can cause a vessel to list substantially as the weight is initially picked up, and as it travels across the beam to its final destination in the ship's hold. This is an operation, that requires not only knowledge of the process, but can never be rushed. As per above quote the sequence was as follows:

  • vessel was purposely listed to 20 to starboard for initial load pick up, this is not normal and, if nothing else, it falls into a cheating category, since the load will cause the vessel to list to starboard, the list should have been put to port prior to lifting, if on the other hand this was because the cranes were not capable of such a lift, they should have never attempted the lift to begin with (unfortunately this is a very possible scenario), the main reason for not using ballast as a lifting medium is, because you do not have the control where it belongs - in the cranes, on the other hand, ballasting and ESPECIALLY counter ballasting during such operations is critical, the bottom line is that the ballast should have been used to apply an opposite list (to Port in this case) so as to counteract the listing as the weight started to come off the pier. This step could have (and should have) been pre-calculated and NO lifting attempted, unless it was determined with good accuracy and certainty what forces would cause what on the vessel
  • so now, ballast was transferred to the port side to right the vessel up and lift the stator, at this point things are looking OK, but as soon as the weight starts to move across the beam of the vessel, this ballast needs to go back to starboard tanks to counteract rapid change of vessel's stability, this process happens faster then one can spell it, times are critical to follow the operation, according to some sources the initial lift occurred at 15:00 and the vessel started its roll to catastrophe at 15:02, mere 2 minutes have passed from lift up to roll, same sources indicate that the load was half way over the vessel's center line at this point, in other words within those 2 minutes the load travelled from over the dock position to half way of its intended horizontal path to the hold, if this information is indeed correct, there was no way for the ballast to be shifted this fast from port to stbd while maintaining positive stability
  • once the roll started, the vessel was already at a point of no recovery, this was worsened by the suspended weight moving along to the wrong side as the listing progressed and further increasing the speed of the roll.

I want to point out a few things here:

  • Stella Mare was considered a heavy lift vessel, yet its LOA was a mere 289 feet, better yet the derricks were capable to lift some 360 tons in one swoop, this adds to the problem and explains the speed at which she capsized, farther supporting above cause analysis
  • the weight of the stator is given in some sources as 340 tons, this alone puts vessel's capability at a jeopardy, with 20 tons of margin from crane's safe working load for a vessel this small, it is simply insane
  • the gross tonnage of the vessel is given as 2368, again given the weight of the stator, they were walking a fine line, regardless of how operation was prepared, but it places even more emphasis on the exactness required to make a safe lift of such magnitude, I am saying they were in it well over their heads

Here is an article that attempts to recreate the whole tragedy. It is a rather prosaic try, but there is little on the web on this, and I am not dismissing it at all, nor do I feel like arguing with some uneducated statements. None of them however, affect the core content of it and according to authors, it is mostly based on interviews with crew members of Stella Mare and their families.

Tragedy came fast ...

As an added "bonus" to this article note, that the above Stella Mare belonged to Jumbo Shipping of Netherlands, a shipping company that specializes in odd and heavy cargoes.

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What's interesting is the case of m/v Jumbo Challenger, this time in Port of Los Angeles. A case of a dropped petroleum reactor while off-loading. It was being lifted by two jumbo cranes and one of them gave way. The reactor was dropped on the dock, as you can see in these photographs. The accident happened February 22nd, 2007, nearly 4 years after Stella Mare. A different accident, a different vessel, no lives lost, yet the operator was the same. Hopefully a coincidence.


Last Updated (Sunday, 11 July 2010 17:44)

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