Ship Breaks Loose at Port of Bellingham

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Tue, Dec 09, 2014, 1:31 pm  //  John Servais

11 am - the ship has twisted 90 degrees to a right angle to its berth at the Port of Bellingham berth.

Snappy NWCitizen photography correspondent Doug Starcher provides these photos.  He said it was a slow motion train wreck - with the ship breaking away mid morning in the high winds and slowly twisting on its stern lines to be broadside to the wind and nudge up against the bottom of Bellingham Bay.  

According to the Bellingham Herald article, the cause was the ripping out of the wharf of the cleats the ship's mooring lines were attached to.  

Two tugs arrived late morning and started pulling the bow of the ship off the bottom.  While winds were officially measured as 67 mph at the airport, which means the wind was over 70 mph at the ship and possibly hurricane strength of 74 mph.  By late morning, the wind and gusts were down to 20 and 30 mph, making the pulling of the ship more feasible. 

By one pm, it appears the ship is again moored to the wharf.  

A bit of information and commentary on this ship and pier.  

We have wondered for years why this empty ocean freighter stayed tied to this pier.  I learned recently that the company uses it as a cheater to slip through a loophole in U.S. shipping laws - known as the Jones Act.  As this ship was built in the United States, it counts toward their fleet which has foreigh built ships.  U.S. laws are slanted toward firms that own U. S. built ships.  So this old rust bucket with no service life left in her has been rotting at our Port of Bellingham pier for over 5 years now - and counting.  But the shipping company can claim her as a member if its fleet of ships.  

Because the waterway has not been dredged in decades, the ship rests on the bottom of the shallow shipping channel during low tides.  I won a nice bet with a port commissioner on that little factoid. They don't like to admit to such idiocy at the port.  Also, the wharf itself is a rotting mess, with patchwork repairs over the decades.  In 1992 I was amazingly appointed to the "2015" committee of the port, which was tasked with studying and recommending what capital improvements were needed.  After a few meetings we became aware of how decrepit this wharf was and the port proceeded to disband the committee before any further embarrassing facts were revealed.  

One of the problems we learned was that if the channel were to be dredged to its proper and original depth, then the pier would fall over into the channel.  Back 10 years ago, when an occasional ship did dock here to pick up cargo, it had to be towed away from the dock to deeper water when the tide was low.  This became very expensive for shipping companies - moving a ship in and out once or twice a day.  So - the port took the quiet easy way out.  They stopped using the pier for ships.  And this hulk showed up to occupy the now useless for shipping pier.  

What looks like a fine ocean going freighter at a fine cargo dock - is actually a totally useless ship at a useless pier.  But, as can be seen from the screen shot of the Port of Bellingham website today, the port continues to use photos of the ship and dock to imply that Bellingham has an active shipping terminal.

Noon - the two tugs - one Foss and one Crowley - slowly twist the ship back to its pier.

Noon - and the two tugs almost have the ship turned back to the wharf.

1 pm - the ship is tied back to its pier. It appears they have attached the dock lines to the opposite side of the wharf.

Port of Bellingham website today, Dec 9, 2014. A useless ship at a useless pier.

Tip Johnson  //  Tue, Dec 09, 2014, 3:57 pm

Hmmm, wonder what the emergency tug service cost and who will pay??

Mike Rostron  //  Tue, Dec 09, 2014, 4:02 pm

Excellent reporting John!
I drove by a bit ago and it looks like they have the behemoth lassoed.

We generally get very little information about the activities on our waterfront.
Perhaps we need a special publication (at least on-line) dedicated to Bellingham Bay and port activities. To name a few possible articles:

*Mysterious ships and barges containing who-knows-what and anchored for days or weeks.
*The sudden disappearance of all the sailboats that used to grace the Fairhaven basin.
*The harassing of boaters who commit the heinous sin of anchoring for more than 30 days at the same place without paying someone for the privilege. (Even though they surely add to our economy by purchasing goods and services in town.)
*The blaming of live-aboard boaters for water pollution, when their tiny amounts of waste are insignificant in comparison to run-off and other pollution originating on land.
*More details on boat losses and general wind storm damage
*Features on historically important or interesting local boats


Tip Johnson  //  Wed, Dec 10, 2014, 3:00 pm

John is perhaps a bit too polite.  This event underscores a massive public fraud, and one which the Herald is apparently willing to gloss over.  This is truly a gigantic smoke and mirrors act. 

The ship is a dead hulk that helps the shipping company comply with the Jones Act by being of US registry, even though it is completely inoperable. It helps the Port pretend it has a shipping terminal to justify the positions of Director of Maritime and Marine Terminals Manager even though the Port for years has not returned phone calls from shipping prospects. As John points out, the pier is rotten and would collapse if the channel were dredged. That’s why the ship ran aground. The cleats pulled out of the dock.  That’s pretty darned rotten.

Nevertheless, the charade is extensively orchestrated with a webpage -
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“The Bellingham Shipping Terminal…is a full-service marine terminal that has the flexibility to customize its services to meet your needs.”

They publish a tariff schedule -
+ Link -
According to which the 500 ft Horizon Fairbanks should be paying $2,743 instead of the $1,000 per day reported in the Herald.

Besides the executive positions, someone got paid to make a fancy brochure -
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“Dedicated to attracting shipping and marine trades, in 2005 the Port of Bellingham purchased 137-acres of waterfront property – a former pulp and paper mill – and has undertaken an environmental cleanup and redevelopment partnership effort with the City of Bellingham and the State Department of Ecology.”

And a marketing “booklet” -
+ Link -
“…the Port acquired all 137 acres of waterfront owned by GP, and is now placing that property back into service. Large strategic parcels adjacent to a federal channel have been earmarked for maritime uses.”

It is worth noting that the Port petitioned Congress to decommission the Whatcom Waterway.  Already too shallow to accommodate ships, decommissioning means it will not be dredged and will continue to fill with silt.

What do you think this all costs taxpayers?  Go ahead and look at the Port’s budget -
+ Link -
and leave a comment if you can tell where your money is being spent.

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