Coast Guard investigating how cargo ship drifted away from Southie terminal

Coast Guard investigators are still trying to determine how lines broke on a 1,065-foot ship that drifted away from the Paul J. Conley Container Terminal in South Boston early Wednesday, damaging another pier before tugboats caught up to the vessel, an official said Thursday morning.

Petty Officer Andrew Barresi, a Coast Guard spokesman, said the cause of the mishap involving the Helsinki Bridge container ship remains the subject of an “ongoing investigation.” The boat, which was anchored later Wednesday in Broad Sound, is expected to return to the terminal early Sunday morning, Barresi said.

In addition, Barresi said investigators have conducted preliminary inspections of the boat, and that process will continue. The owner of the vessel will also contract divers to inspect the vessel while it remains anchored in the sound, according to Barresi.


He said he hasn’t received information about any damage to the ship.

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The Coast Guard said in a prior statement that the incident unfolded around 12:45 a.m. Wednesday when the ship “broke free from its mooring” at the terminal.

“Terminal workers who were aboard . . . were able to safely disembark, and no injuries or pollution from the container ship were reported,” the release said. “A docking pilot boarded the vessel, and along with the container ship’s crew, safely escorted the Helsinki Bridge to Broad Sound, where it remains anchored.”

The ship was carrying general cargo, according to the Coast Guard.

Massport said Wednesday afternoon in a statement that the ship had been docked for about 12 hours before it “moved 300 feet across the Reserve Channel and caused some damage to the end of the 88 Black Falcon pier. . . . The ship is currently anchored in the harbor off of Nahant. Damage assessments to both Conley Terminal and 88 Black Falcon are also being conducted. Massport is working closely with the Coast Guard on the investigation.”


Captain Michael Burns of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, who is not involved in the investigation, said wind gusts that reached up to 50 miles per hour at the time of the incident may have imperiled the ship.

“The ship was moored at Conley Terminal more or less at an east-west heading,” said Burns, who directs the academy’s Center for Maritime and Professional Training. “At the time that those lines broke loose, the wind was blowing from the south and was basically hitting that vessel at a broadside. . . . The force being generated by the wind was just simply more than the mooring lines, or the bollards they were attached to, could withstand.”

Bollards are short, thick posts, often constructed of iron or steel, that shipping lines are attached to in order to secure vessels in port.

A large container ship is “only as secure as what you secure it to,” Burns said. “The strength of that bollard is critical.”

He said he’s not aware of any regulations that require crews to use a specific number of lines to secure vessels in port. Captains have some discretion in that area, Burns said.

Travis Andersen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.