Tanker Grounding Renews Safety Calls

Friday, December 01, 2000
The grounding of the oil tanker Westchester in the Mississippi river has had no immediate impact on the freight market but brokers say it could spark a longer term flight to quality, causing freight rates to rise further. "The Westchester was an 1981-built ship so there'll be a renewed focus on modern ships," said one Oslo-based tanker broker. Other sources talked of a self-imposed ban by charterers on single-hulled ships. "So far there's been no visible effect on rates," Reuters reported a U.S. broker saying, "but it's certainly being talked up." The 83,000-ton Westchester ran aground on Tuesday close to the 38-mile mark of the Mississipi river as a result of losing power due to an engine failure. The hull was breached in the number one starboard cargo tank, leading to a spill of 13,000 barrels of sweet Nigerian crude -- the biggest spillage in the Mississippi for 20 years. The Westchester was a single-hulled ship with segregated ballast tanks. On Thursday, 70,000-ton cargoes of crude from the Caribbean to the U.S. Gulf were being fixed at around W340, a similar rate to that being fixed on Monday. After temporary closure, the Mississippi was re-opened to northbound traffic on Wednesday afternoon. Eight ships passed through on Wednesday night and two more on Thursday morning, the U.S. Coast Guard said. But 35 southbound ships were queued up, and many others up the Mississippi were not leaving their origination points because of the delays. As of Thursday Westchester was still anchored near marker 38, and that he believed it had stopped leaking. There were plans to transfer the cargo but there was no firm timetable yet. The tanker was on a two-month charter to Petrolink, and had been involved in lightering operations offshore. It was bound for the St. James pipeline facility in Louisiana at the time of the accident. The Westchester is managed by Athens-based Ermis Maritime, which operates a fleet of 23 similar-sized tankers. It is a relatively old fleet - 16 of the ships are over 15 years old - but they have a good inspection record, and there is no evidence of poor maintenance.

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