Disabled cargo ship heading to Dutch Harbor

When it finally arrives in Unalaska next week, the Shin Onoe will be one of the biggest vessels to ever stay in port here. It’s 150 feet wide, with a 60 foot draft when it’s full of coal, soybeans, or iron.

Right now, it’s empty. It was traveling along the Great Circle shipping route to Prince William Sound early this week to pick up cargo when its turbocharger failed, just west of Attu island.

Ed Page has been tracking the vessel for the nonprofit Marine Exchange of Alaska.

“She has less power than she normally would, so she can’t make good time or good speed,” Page says. “She’s plodding along at about five knots through the Aleutians, through the Bering Sea.”

As of Friday afternoon, Page said the Shin Onoe was about 600 miles northwest of Unalaska. He’s been feeding this information to the Coast Guard.

Lt. Jim Fothergill is with the marine safety detachment in Unalaska. He says his office is monitoring the Shin Onoe, too. Beyond that, though, Fothergill says there’s not much for the Coast Guard to do, but wait.

“We’re just making sure that there are plenty of tugs available to handle them and we’ve identified an anchorage area,” Fothergill says. “And we’re watching the weather to see when we’re going to have a good window to bring them in.”

The National Weather Service is forecasting 30 knot winds for the Eastern Aleutians through Sunday. The weather is supposed to clear up on Monday, with the Shin Onoe set to arrive Monday afternoon.

Rick Entenmann is a marine pilot who’s been coordinating the local response. He says there was never any risk of a grounding, or a spill, in the Aleutians. But the Shin Onoe is traveling so slowly — at times, just one knot — that it’s hard to maintain its steering.

That’s going to make it tough to get the giant ship into Unalaska. Normally, a disabled cargo ship would need two tugs. But because of the Shin Onoe’s size, Entenmann has been looking for a third to help out.

He says another marine casualty has tied up some of the best resources in the state.

“Shell has everything wrapped up right now,” Entenmann says. “They have the Aiviq, which would have been a great fit for this particular job. The Coast Guard’s been looking, we’ve been wracking our brains out.”

They finally found the tug Ocean Ranger, which is heading up from southeast Alaska to assist the local tugs. Those vessels will have their hands full with other shipping traffic around town.

Fothergill, with the Coast Guard, says that shipping traffic is part of the reason why the Shin Onoe won’t tie up at Unlalaska’s new emergency mooring buoy, just installed this winter.

“Because the emergency buoy is more if it is an actual emergency,” Fothergill says. “Their ground tackle is sufficient, and we’re not really willing to tie up the emergency buoy with this bulker.”

Once the Shin Onoe gets to Unalaska, it’ll anchor in Summers Bay – well outside of town — for a few days while its turbocharger is replaced.

Vessels don’t usually anchor in Summers Bay in winter, since it’s partially exposed. But given the special circumstances, the Coast Guard’s made an exception.

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