The Transportation Safety Board says the grounding of a Japanese coal ship off B.C.'s North Coast could have been worse, had the massive vessel been moving more quickly.

The Japanese bulk carrier Amakusa Island was hauling 80,000 tonnes of Canadian coal when it hit a shoal about 22 km from Prince Rupert on July 14, 2014.

The ship ran aground and visibly listed. No one was injured and no pollution was released, but the 228-metre ship was left with damage to its ballast tanks, which began to take on water, and sustained cracks up to 30 metres long. 

"This incident was fairly serious," said Mohan Raman, the Transportation Safety Board's manager of regional operations for the Pacific region.

Raman says if the vessel had been moving any faster, the shoal could have ruptured the ship's fuel tank. He says there was no danger posed by the cargo of coal.

After the vessel ran aground, the Canadian Coast Guard, Prince Rupert port officials, a harbour patrol vessel, divers, and several tug boat operators all rushed to the scene to assist and prevent further damage.  

The Amakusa Island was refloated on the rising tide. After a month of temporary repairs, the boat returned to Japan.

Ridley Coal Terminal

Ridley Terminals Inc. is a coal-loading facility south of Prince Rupert. (Ridley Terminals)

Changes made since grounding

In an investigation report released yesterday, the Transportation Safety Board says an unexpected change of course, ordered by the vessel's charterer, put the ship on an unfamiliar route and contributed to the incident.

The B.C. pilot required to come aboard to assist with local navigation had "not taken the route...previously." 

The TSB report noted that the shoal where the boat ran aground was marked on navigational charts, but was not detected by the pilot or bridge team. Additionally, the pilot's portable instruments were not properly configured to detect hazards. 

Since the incident, the shoal's position has been clarified on navigational maps, said the TSB.

The B.C. Coast Pilots, a private company of experienced mariners responsible for piloting foreign vessels on the west coast, has also instituted mandatory assessment for pilots every five years, and finalized "safety corridors" for all areas of the B.C. Coast, excluding Haida Gwaii. 

This marine incident happened at a time when proposed LNG projects could bring hundreds more large vessels to the B.C. coast every year — ships that would also be assisted by B.C. coast pilots.

Raman calls the Amakusa Island incident very rare. " It's not an everyday affair," he said. " I'm sure ... the B.C. Coast Pilot officials have this in hand ...ensuring our waters are safe."

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