VIDEO: Charleston Harbor Pilots avert potential box ship strike on bridge

Written by Nick Blenkey
Charleston Harbor Pilots

Screen grab fron video posted by WCBD 2

The skill of Charleston Harbor Pilots may well have saved the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge over the Cooper River from potentially suffering the same sort of fate as Baltimore’s Key Bridge.

The incident began yesterday when Coast Guard Sector Charleston command center watchstanders received a report at 12:17 p.m. from the Charleston Harbor Pilots dispatch of a containership, the MSC Michigan VII, experiencing a malfunction with the systems controlling its propulsion on the Cooper River while outbound from the North Charleston Container Terminal.

WCBD 2 News posted video showing the ship speeding through the bridge,

Unlike in the Dali incident, the MSC Michigan VII did not have a power loss, but an as yet unexplained malfunction that “suddenly caused the throttle to stick at nearly full speed ahead just moments after departing from North Charleston Terminal,” according to the Charleston Post and Courier, quotingCapt. John Cameron, executive director of the Charleston Branch Pilots Association

One of the most experienced harbor pilots was manning the 24-year-old ship when it vaulted forward nearly two times quicker than typical, Cameron told the newspaper, saying that the pilot , leaned on “calculated confidence” gained by manning ships through the harbor at least 3,000 times to decide to continue the voyage. He directed the ship’s crew through 16 turns before it cleared the harbor.

Coast Guard Sector Charleston says that, on being alerted to the incident, as a precaution, local law enforcement closed vehicle traffic to the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and Fort Moultrie Beach was evacuated. The bridge reopened once the vessel safely passed underneath.

Coast Guard response boats and other government agency partners launched numerous assets on the water and the shore to assist with alerting the public and clearing vessel traffic in the ship channel.

The vessel transited out of the Charleston Harbor and anchored 8.5 miles offshore under a Captain of the Port order to remain anchored until further notice.

In its reporting on the incident today, broadcaster WCB 2  noted that after an initial investigation, Charleston Harbor Pilots were allowed to undock Thursday morning and the Captain of the Port had ordered the vessel back to port where it was docked at the Columbus Street Terminal for a full investigation.

“I would like to thank our South Carolina state and local Charleston partners for their prompt response and assistance in clearing vessel traffic in the ship channel and halting vehicle traffic on the Ravenel Bridge,” said Cmdr. Randy Preston, Coast Guard Sector Charleston deputy commander. “I also want to recognize the Charleston Harbor Pilots for their exceptional coordination and the pilot’s efforts in recognizing the adverse situation and steering the ship through the harbor to open water without major incident. This was truly a team effort.”

Sector Charleston watchstanders received reports of damage along the vessel’s route believed to be caused by its wake. Vessel and facility inspectors are currently conducting damage assessments throughout the port.

Two recreational boaters were reportedly injured and were assisted by local EMS personnel before being transported to a nearby hospital.

Federal aids to navigation in the area are being assessed to ensure there are no discrepancies as a result of this incident, and the incident is under investigation.

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