Freighter Breaks Loose From Tug, Drifts Toward Shoals
WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) _ A 600-foot freighter, empty except for nearly 400,000 gallons of heavy oil, broke loose from a tug Tuesday and was drifting toward shallow water in a gathering storm. The ship’s captain and three others went aboard in 20-foot seas to try to keep it from going aground.
The 600-foot Lyra, a container ship, was being towed from Baltimore to New Orleans when it broke loose from its 120-foot tug around 7 a.m. Coast Guard officials blamed the rough weather.
No crew was aboard for the trip. But captain, chief mate, chief engineer and another engineer were quickly flown in from their homes in New Orleans, and a Marine helicopter dropped them aboard the ship in 20-foot seas, said Ardley Hanemann, a spokesman for Lykes Lines of New Orleans, which owns the vessel.
They were trying to drop an anchor in hopes of slowing down the vessel.
″We are very, very optimistic about this,″ Hanemann said.
But by 10 p.m., the crew remained unable to get generators working so the huge anchor could be lowered slowly, Coast Guard Petty Officer Wayne Weeks said.
″They’d like to try to lower the anchor to the water before they drop it,″ Weeks said. ″Because of the size of the anchor and the chain, you don’t want it free running if you can help it.″
The ship wasn’t carrying cargo but had 378,000 gallons of heavy oil in its fuel tanks, officials said.
The captain is Debbie Dempsey, who has been master of the Lyra since 1989. Her trips have included a military supply run during the Persian Gulf War, Hanemann said. ″She’s excellent. She knows her business,″ he said.
By Tuesday evening, seas had built to 20 feet and the wind was blowing at 40 to 50 mph, Coast Guard Ensign Karl DeLooff said.
If the freighter couldn’t be anchored or reconnected to its tug, it could run aground near Frying Pan Shoals early Wednesday, Coast Guard Lt. Dough Schwalm said. Frying Pan Shoals is an area of shallow water off the southeastern tip of North Carolina.
A Coast Guard patrol boat was sent to the scene, and pollution response teams went to the Frying Pan Shoals area, Petty Officer Michael Davis said.
Officials were worried that an oil spill could damage the fishing and tourism industries and harm protected wildlife habitat, said Chip Patterson of the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management.
The Lyra was being towed from Baltimore to New Orleans.
Hanemann said it wasn’t customary to remove fuel from a vessel in tow.