Stranded ship to be lightened

Officials hope that unloading tons of coal will allow bow to float free from sandbar

March 03, 2007|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,Sun reporter

The owners of a huge freighter that ran aground three days ago in the Chesapeake Bay have devised a new plan to try to free the vessel, officials said yesterday.

The next attempt to rescue the M.V. Montrose, a 712-foot coal carrier stuck near the mouth of the Choptank River, could begin today or tomorrow and should be completed in 36 hours, according to Lt. Isaac Saenz, a Coast Guard spokesman.

Overseeing the project with the Coast Guard will be Maryland's Natural Resources Police and Department of the Environment, Saenz said.

The ship's crew reported it stranded in 40-foot waters early Wednesday. Since then, two attempts to move the Montrose with heavy-duty tugboats failed.

The new plan includes the removal of about 8,500 tons of coal from the ship, said Saenz. The idea, he said, is to lighten the vessel, allowing its bow to ease out of the sandy bottom the ship struck nearly a mile from the Chesapeake's shipping lanes. The ship weighs 39,000 tons unloaded.

Timing will depend largely on how long it takes to move equipment to the site, including a barge equipped with a crane. The Liberian-flag vessel, which is owned by Brentwood BV, apparently suffered no structural damage, poses no hazard to shipping and has shown no signs of leaking any of its 210,000 gallons of fuel or other pollutants, officials said.

Officials expect some coal dust to enter the water, but most will dissipate, Saenz said.

The Coast Guard cutter Albacore will remain on the site to enforce a 500-yard security zone around the Montrose. The crew will stay aboard during the operation.

"This could go into early next week," said Saenz. "But it looks like it might get started over the weekend."

chris.guy@baltsun.com

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