A U.S. Coast Guard report of investigation says old chart data from the 1930s was to blame for the July 2, 2015 grounding of the icebreaking platform service vessel Fennica near Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The report provides details on that mishap, one of a number that dogged Royal Dutch Shell before the company cancelled its Arctic oil exploration.
At the time, the Fennica was leaving Dutch Harbor, Alaska, en route to the Chukchi Sea, carrying a capping stack, a critical piece of emergency well containment equipment. The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) had issued Shell permission to conduct limited exploratory drilling activities, but only drilling the top sections of wells. Drilling into oil-bearing zones would only be allowed when a capping stack was on hand and deployable within 24 hours.
The 380’x85’ Fennica was drawing 26’3” when it was underway in Unalaska Bay, which according to charts should have left sufficient water under the keel for passage. At 10:51 p.m., the master, mate and local pilot heard a loud sound and felt a slight movement of the vessel, but assumed it was the anchor being hauled up and secured in its pocket, according to the report.
At 10:55 p.m. the pilot disembarked. Between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. the crew noticed water rising in a port side ballast tank, and after investigating the master determined the tank was taking on water and at 1:45 a.m. made the decision to return to port.
The next day divers found a gash 3’6” long and less than an inch wide in the bottom of the No. 4 port ballast tank. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 231’x42’x15’6” survey ship Fairweather was sent to conduct a hydrographic survey of the ship’s route. Its crew found severely previous uncharted shallow areas and rocks, including one that corresponded to the Fennica’s position when the loud sound was heard.
With an ebbing tide 3’ above mean low-low water at the time, that meant the Fennica was drawing 9” too deep to transit over the rock, Coast Guard investigators concluded.
“However, the vessel’s route using the current charts at the time of the casualty was sound in regards to the known depth of water,” they wrote. Charts of the area showed minimum depth of 31’6” based on a 1935 survey. With increasing maritime traffic in Arctic waters, out-of-date hydrographic surveys have been cited as a potential hazard.
Although the Fennica’s operators were free of blame, the incident gave more ammunition to opponents of Shell’s effort to explore for Arctic oil, who had attempted to blockade the vessel’s departure from Portland, Ore.
The PSV is owned by Arctia Offshore of Helsinki, Finland, and the Coast Guard report was released by Finland Safety Investigation Authority.