Container ship captain calls for tug assistance

The 712-foot container vessel Horizon Tacoma is towed between Bainbridge Island and Seattle Tuesday afternoon. This photo was taken from the Seattle's Sunset Hill Park about 3:30 p.m. The ship, with the Crowley tug Hunter on the bow and the Garth Foss at the stern, was headed to the Port of Tacoma. / Photo courtesy of © Fred Felleman

Never be embarrassed to ask for help. That’s the take-home message from an incident Tuesday night when a 712-foot container ship had engine trouble. Sure, the ship might have made it to Tacoma, but what damage would that have caused to the engine, and how safe would that be moving through our relatively narrow waterway?

The following is the story I prepared for the Kitsap Sun’s Web site and tomorrow’s newspaper. Thanks to Fred Felleman for shooting the photo.

Washington Department of Ecology officials are praising the captain of a container ship for seeking assistance from a rescue tug east of Neah Bay and taking no chances Tuesday night.

The 712-foot Horizon Tacoma experienced engine problems at about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, said Curt Hart, spokesman for Ecology. Although the ship was not entirely disabled, the captain chose to shut down the main engine to prevent further damage and called for tug assistance. The ship still had use of its thrusters and directional navigation, he noted.

“This is how we like things to happen,” Hart said. “That had to be a tough call for the company, but we think it was a good call. The ship could have limped in … but this ensures safety to prevent a maritime hazard.”

The state’s emergency-response tug at Neah Bay, called the Hunter, was about a half-hour away and quickly responded. The Coast Guard, which was in charge of the operation, gave permission for the Hunter to tow the ship to its destination in Tacoma but directed the ship to engage a second tug.

The tug Garth Foss met the ship near Port Angeles on Wednesday and joined the Hunter in towing the ship down through Puget Sound. The vessels were expected to be off the east side of the Kitsap Peninsula on Wednesday and reach Tacoma sometime Wednesday evening.

Because the Hunter is occupied with the long tow, another Crowley tug, the Valor, is standing by at Neah Bay for other possible emergencies.

Since 1999, the publicly funded rescue tug has stood by or assisted 44 vessels. The maritime industry is scheduled to take over funding of the tug this summer.

2 thoughts on “Container ship captain calls for tug assistance

  1. Thanks for reporting on this Chris. I was wondering this afternoon (~5:pm) about the freighter I saw south of West Seattle headed to Tacoma with tugs buzzing around it like flies. I think the Garth Foss was being relieved at the stern by a slightly smaller tug. Hat’s off to the skill of the tug captains. The tug at the stern sails in reverse (anyone know why?) as you can see in Fred’s image. To watch the replacement captain whip the tug around 180 degrees and slip right next to the stern of the ship in a matter of seconds was really impressive to watch. Again, thanks for solving my afternoon mystery and enhancing the experience. JEff

  2. Yes, this is exactly how this program is supposed to work and avert any possible ecological damage. An ounce of prevention…

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