After damaged Michipicoten freighter docks in Thunder Bay, TSB assessing whether to investigate

Canada's Transportation Safety Board (TSB) is collecting information to determine if it needs to investigate after a damaged ship arrived in Thunder Bay, Ont.'s harbour on the weekend.

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) was informed the Michipicoten, a 213-metre-long bulk carrier, was taking on water on Saturday morning. Initial reports indicated it struck something while travelling near Isle Royale, a Great Lakes island that's part of Michigan.

"Our initial report was there was a serious amount of flooding coming in," said Lorne Thomas, chief of external affairs for the Ninth Coast Guard District based in Cleveland. "The ship heard a loud bang which indicates, probably, extensive hull failure of some sort."

Thomas said the USCG dispatched a boat and helicopter — the Canadian Coast Guard also dispatched a boat — to the scene, and 11 of the Michipicoten's 22 crew members were evacuated.

"If things had gotten worse, it'd be easier to take 11 people off versus 22 if we get into a crisis situation," Thomas said. "So that was a prudent move on their part."

Cause under investigation

The ship was stabilized and made it to Thunder Bay, where it's docked at Keefer Terminal.

The exact cause of the damage is unknown, Thomas said, adding divers inspecting the ship found a four-metre crack in its hull.

The crack, he said, could have been caused by stress on the vessel or steel fatigue.

"Kind of an unknown, and subsequent investigation will probably determine this — did during the transit when the vessel was in shallower water, more confined channels, did it bump into anything?" Thomas said. "Did it go aground?

"There's no initial indications that that's the case, but that's certainly something the investigation will look at and they may not be able to determine that until it gets up on a dry dock."

Initial thoughts, Thomas said, were that the ship collided with something near Isle Royale, but that's unlikely given the depth of the water there.

Thomas said it's likely any coast guard investigation will be a collaborative one. The vessel itself is registered in Canada, but the incident occurred in U.S. waters.

"There's a possibility you could have two separate investigations, but it's more likely we'll have more of a co-operative investigation maybe with Transport Canada taking lead, since it's a Canadian vessel and the vessel's in Canadian waters now."

TSB assessing the incident

The TSB is an independent agency mandated to advance safety in air, marine, pipeline and rail transportation in Canada.

A spokesperson said no investigators have yet been deployed to the scene and the agency is still gathering information to see if an investigation is warranted.

"After analysis of the preliminary information gathered by the TSB, it was determined that the occurrence is unlikely to yield new safety lessons that will advance transportation safety," the spokesperson said. "Therefore, it has been classified as a Class 5 occurrence in accordance with the Occurrence Classification Policy.

"Class 5 occurrences are not subject to full investigations followed by an investigation report. However, data on Class 5 occurrences are recorded in suitable scope for possible future safety analysis, statistical reporting or archival purposes."