Mishap highlights growing foreign-flagged oil tanker traffic

I would really like to know the thought process behind the decision to attempt to anchor an oil tanker in the Gulf of Alaska

Was that because of the flag, or because of an inexperienced Master??
Stupid mistakes can be made on ships under any flag, by Masters of any nationalities.

The point is that the US flagged vessels (and Masters) that are regulars in there know not to try and anchor offshore. Until this past year, very little traffic into PWS was foreign and of the US flag traffic, it’s only about 10 or so different vessels. They’re well versed in operating there. A true stranger is probably not.

This quote sums it up:

“I’m told anchoring in open water is a technique used in many areas; it’s common practice. It’s a common practice internationally that doesn’t apply here,”


I’ve seen vessels anchored in areas that I would never consider anchoring and I came to the conclusion that they have been instructed to anchor as soon as they have tended a notice of readiness to save fuel. The office dictating procedure over compliant masters?

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I’m thinking it either has to be that or they had a propulsion failure that they didn’t want to report to the USCG.

I’m not familiar with that area.

I wonder why tankers don’t anchor there. Is it because they know that they are under a microscope and any mishap is going to make the news? If that’s the case than it’d pay to be super conservative.

Or is it just the case the practice there is to always have a pilot on arrival, wx permitting?

Obviously in this case it was not a suitable anchorage but depending on the depth, bottom characteristics, distance to nearest hazards, weather and so forth it’s possible to anchor safely in open water.

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Hinchinbrook is a particularly violent place in an already violent ocean. The bottom topography and current outflow from PWS produce sudden steep seas from unexpected directions when the big Gulf of Alaska swells roll in. It’s an area to avoid unless you’re entering PWS and even then it’s a good place to be very careful.

They always have a pilot on arrival, not sure what happened in this case, if it was a wx delay further reason not to anchor.

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We would often “anchor the tanker” just south of Bligh Island while waiting a berth at the terminal.

Why on Earth anyone would anchor outside Hinchinbrook is beyond comprehension.

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I was in one of the “smaller” tankers (76,000 dwt) calling Valdez during the late Eighties. We anchored at Jack Bay once, due to the port being shut-down from the cold! I spent the first afternoon knocking down a heavy layer of ice from the firefighting monitors and other strategic locations on deck with a length of 2X4. We’d encountered a series of lows Northbound that wouldn’t let us be.

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That’s big compared to the one I worked (49,000 DWT), in Valdez every 10 days.

jd, I once loaded there in a 40,000 dwt ship! That was the time a bear ran onto the berth, IIRC.

jd, not trying to one-up you, by the way. It was strange being so small alongside.

Nor am I, so I won’t mention the smallest ship I went to Valdez on. But 70K dwt? I am drawing a blank. At first I thought Keystone Canyon/Thompson Pass/Tonsina/Antigun Pass, but I think they were all more than 70K. Arco Proudhoe Bay or Sag River…?

It was “Exxon San Francisco”. I landed there after shipping with the Squareheads during most of the Seventies. Unlicensed at the time. I was twelve years an A.B. Left there for M.E.B.A.
Twenty years now with M.M.&P.

If memory serves me this morning, all those Keystone/ATC boats except Tonsina were built as 160K and slimmed down to 125K to comply with the Puget Sound size rules. They were built of high tensile steel and we had constant hull cracking in the cold water and heavy seas on the TAPS run.

Tonsina and Prince William Sound (Willy) were built as 125K ton ships. While the accomodations were not as nice as the bigger boats they were a good job.

In this case the tanker Stena Suede had issues with the anchor windlass. That’s most likely from attempting to raise the anchor in swell.

In my experience If the anchor stops paying in because of a wind load the mate can just stop heaving in until the strain comes off the chain, either between gust or by using the engine.

If the anchor windlass stops under load due to the wind and the ship then encounters a swell it’s possible to damage the windlass. According to the manual if the windlass stalls under load it’s required to relieve the load by paying out a bit before continuing to heave in.

One difficulty with anchoring off-shore is it requires heaving up anchor and getting underway before the weather gets bad. This is especially true with regards to wave/swell load.

In this case probably better to make a blanket prohibition with regards to anchoring than to depend upon good decision making.

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I sailed once on the Mobil Arctic, a sort of sister - the hull was the same but the house was for a smaller ship. It too had constant hull cracking problems. Its load line was re-drawn to make it 124,995 DWT to avoid the Puget Sound escort tug rules.

Current weather from NWS Anchorage doesn’t look bad.

7NM SSE Hinchinbrook Island AK

This Afternoon
W wind around 10 kt. Sunny. Seas around 2 ft.
SW wind 5 to 10 kt. Mostly clear. Seas around 2 ft.
Variable winds 5 kt or less. Mostly sunny. Seas around 2 ft.
Tuesday Night
Variable winds 5 kt or less. Partly cloudy. Seas around 2 ft.
Variable winds 5 kt or less. Partly sunny. Seas around 2 ft.
Wednesday Night
Variable winds 5 kt or less. Showers likely, mainly after 4am. Seas around 2 ft.
E wind 5 to 10 kt. Rain likely, mainly before 10am. Seas around 2 ft.
Thursday Night
ESE wind 15 to 20 kt. Rain likely. Seas 4 ft building to 7 ft.
E wind around 20 kt. Rain likely. Seas around 7 ft.

Forecast has it starting to pick up some Thursday.

Currently Hinchinbrook is under a high pressure system

Seas in feet:

I’ve no local knowledge of that part of the Gulf but it looks like it would be OK to anchor off-shore.

I wasn’t onboard her but I remember when the Texaco Cardiff after running for many years between Saudi and other Middle Eastern ports was suddenly and with warning picked up a charter to Alaska.

© Chris Howell
She was 33885 DWT built in Belgium in 1958.
The crew made duffel coats out of blankets as no one had any cold weather gear.

One advantage to anchoring off-shore rather than coming inside is the distance to hazards. If the ship is dragging sideways in the wind it takes about a mile to get the ship under control once the bridge gets wheelhouse control of the engine.

The problem of heaving anchor whilst dragging is the same, inside or outside, if the ship is outside there is going to be a lot more room to do it assuming sea room. In this case the ship was 20 miles out.

The main wild card factor outside is sea and swell, not safe to heave anchor if the seas are too high and risk of damage as was the case here. That requires moving before the weather gets bad which gets into the problems with decision making errors. I’ve had a couple chiefs become angry for leaving what looked to them like a perfectly good anchorage which were in fact dangerous, given the forecast.

The other advantage outside is the ship is free to leave anytime. If the ship is stuck inside it’s a problem without a pilot or permission from port control, coast guards etc.

Another thread here;