A CSX Corp. coal pier in Baltimore is out of service for the foreseeable future as the railroad assesses the "substantial" damage caused by a ship that hit the structure.
The Bayside Coal Pier, on Benhill Avenue in Curtis Bay, was struck Saturday by a tanker headed for a dock up the channel — an unusual accident that could cause ripple effects for coal shipping.
CSX said an employee was injured in the incident, hospitalized and later released.
The Jacksonville, Fla.-based company estimates in a federal lawsuit that the Wawasan Ruby, owned by Panama-based Trio Happiness S.A., caused more than $5 million in damage, both to the property and in revenue loss.
CSX said the other pier at its Curtis Bay coal facility, intended for smaller vessels, was not damaged.
"CSX is currently evaluating repair requirements at the Bayside pier and is working with customers on interim delivery alternatives," the company said in a statement.
It did not specify how long repairs might take.
Inchcape Shipping Services, an international maritime service provider, warned customers this week not to expect a quick reopening. "It is rumoured that the Chesapeake Bay Piers (Bayside) will be out of commission for 3-4 months," it wrote on a notice on its website.
CSX, fearing the ship would leave before it could pursue a claim, won a court order that temporarily detained the vessel. The U.S. District Court in Baltimore allowed the Wawasan Ruby to continue on to Antwerp, Belgium, on Monday only after its owner provided a "letter of undertaking" guaranteeing payment if CSX wins a judgment.
"So far as the investigation has found to date, there was no defect with the vessel and no problem or mistake by the vessel's officers and crew," said Geoffrey S. Tobias, an Ober Kaler attorney representing the ship and its owner. "The vessel was under the control of a member of the Association of Maryland Pilots."
Docking pilots bring ships into port, directing their speed and maneuvers, and coordinate with tugs. David W. Skeen, a Baltimore attorney who specializes in maritime law, said that — generally speaking — a docking pilot will work under a contract specifying that he has "no liability for negligence, or whatever liability he has is considered the liability of the ship."
Skeen, noting that he was not familiar with details of the accident, said, "You just wonder how that happened.
"The issues are always going to be speed and engine orders and communications and whether they were properly understood between the pilot and the crew," said Skeen, a partner at Wright, Constable & Skeen. "And sometimes there are issues of whether there were enough tugs."
Tobias, the ship's attorney, said the Coast Guard inspected the vessel immediately after the accident and found no problems. The Coast Guard could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Ships coming from the Chesapeake Bay to the Bitumar Asphalt Dock, where CSX said the Wawasan Ruby was headed, must turn to avoid the CSX pier. Inchcape Shipping Services told its customers that the ship "missed the channel on the turn."
The accident occurred about 12:40 p.m. Saturday. CSX's complaint, filed the next day in federal court, said the damage by Trio Happiness' tanker rendered "the coal pier and all equipment associated with loading vessels inoperable."
"Trio failed in its responsibilities," CSX's attorneys said in the complaint.
CSX also said in court documents that the surveyor it appointed to investigate tried to board the ship to get information but was not allowed on.
Richard Scher, a spokesman for the Maryland Port Administration, said the agency had no comment about the accident because it happened at a privately owned marine terminal. But speaking just about the agency's terminals, he said such mishaps are unusual.
"It is certainly not a common occurrence for piers to be damaged in that context," he said.