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Friday, May 24 2019 @ 08:52 AM UTC

An Explosion In The Engine Room Caused Atlantic Hero Panama Canal Accident

Canal Daily OperationBy DON WINNER for - Yesterday afternoon at approximately 5:50 pm the Bahamas flagged bulk carrier "Atlantic Hero", fully loaded with coal, was finishing a Southbound transit of the Panama Canal. A pilot of the Panama Canal was in control of the vessel as she cleared the Miraflores Locks and headed for the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. Ships traveling Southbound have to make a slight turn to port, just as they pass the port facilities in Balboa, and just before they pass under the Bridge of the Americas in an area the pilots call Dock Six. As the pilot began to turn the vessel to make the gentle turn to port, there was an explosion in the engine room. Suddenly the ship lost all power and the ship's engines went off line. At this point the vessel would have been traveling through the water at approximately six to eight knots. These large vessels depend on the prop wash going over the rudder to improve their maneuverability, and once the engines shut down the pilot only had the water that was going past the rudder as a result of the ship's forward movement to maneuver. Eventually the ship plowed into the pilings under the Bridge of the Americas and came to a stop.

About The Explosion: Ships operate around the clock, 24/7 and "things break." On every ship there are literally tons of equipment, all kinds of generators, pumps, engines, you name it. I don't know exactly what exploded or why, but it was catastrophic enough to take the main engines off line. In addition, many times ships such as these have safety features built in, so that if there is some kind of a fire or explosion in an ancillary piece of equipment, the engines are automatically dropped off line in order to prevent any further damage. If this explosion had occurred just an hour later when the ship was in open water, then the crew would have simply repaired the damage, bring everything back on line, and they go about their merry way. However, in tight and confined spaces, with the ship maneuvering and even making a turn at the time, there was nothing they could do to avoid the collision with the pilings under the Bridge of the Americas. In the annotated image below you can appreciate the slight turn to the left that ships have to maneuver as they pass through this area, and you can see that if you lose engine power at exactly that point, the ship would continue to plow ahead straight, right into the pilings for the Bridge of the Americas. That's exactly what happened.

The Ship Was Just Freed: I was just informed that the Panama Canal Authority was able to free the ship, get it floating again, and now it will be taken out to the Pacific Anchorage, just last the entrance to the Panama Canal. Later today or tomorrow the ACP will hold an official and formal investigation to determine the causes of the incident. Thus far everything indicates this was nothing more than a routine failure of a piece of equipment that just happened to occur at a very bad time. Simply unfortunate, nothing more.

Copyright 2010 by Don Winner for Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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An Explosion In The Engine Room Caused Atlantic Hero Panama Canal Accident | 2 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Panama Canal Accident
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 20 2010 @ 03:17 PM UTC

I was an eyewitness of the accident and I can assure you that the arrow on the drawing which shows the ship hitting the West piling of the bridge is misplaced. Actually, the ship hit the East piling of the bridge of the Americas...

An Explosion In The Engine Room Caused Atlantic Hero Panama Canal Accident
Authored by: Don Winner on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 10:11 AM UTC

Correct. The Panama Canal pilot gave the order to begin his turn to port, and the explosion occurred just as the bow began to swing. The engines went offline, the propellers stopped turning and they stopped putting water over the rudder. The pilot tried to stop the turn by putting the helm full to starboard, however he was unable to halt the turn to port completely and this ship basically "over turned" and ended up hitting the piling as you described. Thanks for pointing that out. When I put the arrow on the graphic I was thinking more "the bridge is here" rather than " it hit this side" - but now with both of our comments that has been clarified. Thanks again.