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Don’t Spill The Beans: A River Grounding

It was just this past July when the river communities were talking about the grounding of 740’ freighter Algobay. The ship had lost control and drifted out of the channel near Dark Island and became stuck on Superior Shoal for nearly a week. Boaters ventured out to get a closer look as the Coast Guard and other personnel created a salvage plan to remove the ship from the rocks and get it back on its way.

Now, some three and a half months later, the river encountered another shipping incident, this time involving a tug and two barges in the tight quarters of the American Narrows near Alexandria Bay.

“It's pretty frustrating to see grounding after grounding with very little follow-up to fully understand what happened and how to prevent it in the future,” said Save The River’s Jennifer Caddick following the grounding of tug Commodore Straits and its barges on October 24. “We're extremely lucky that the barges were carrying soybeans, not something more dangerous. It's a matter of time before we have a serious accident in the narrow again. It just takes one small error or an engine failure for the worst to happen. We need to use this grounding to learn as much as possible to prevent future disasters."

Back in July Caddick seemed to be relatively pleased with the response by authorities to the Algobay grounding. “It does appear as though the Seaway and Coast Guard did do some things right in this current situation” Caddick shared when asked about her thoughts on the response.

This recent incident seemed to have nearly the same results in regards to response as the crew of Commodore Straits immediately radioed for assistance from the United State Coast Guard after drifting out of the channel near marker 199 in the American Narrows. In addition, local authorities were dispatched to the scene to ensure there were no threats to the crew, river or nearby homes.

The barges, which were carrying soybeans, did not spill cargo or any other forms of pollution, however after running hard aground, they began to take on water due to a puncture. Dive crews from Hunt Underwater Specialties in Clayton were called in to inspect the barges and 130-foot tug to determine the extent of damage before a salvage plan could be prepared.

Along with the dive crews were local crews aboard landing crafts and tug Bowditch were on the scene each day helping to move soybeans from the loaded barges into a spare barge in order to lighten the grounded barges and refloat them. Once the barges were refloated, crews moved them to Frink Park in Clayton where Commodore Straits could again tie up to them in order to continue on its route.

Shipping traffic was not effected during the ordeal until it was time to pull the barges free of the shoal when the river was then closed in that area for a few hours. It is still not known as to why Commodore Straits ended up outside of the channel.

Commodore 1, David Pritt Photo 
Photo:  David Pritt © 2010
Commodore 2, David Pritt Photo
Photo:  David Pritt © 2010
Commodore 3, David Pritt Photo 
Photo:   David Pritt © 2010

For more information see Michael Folsom’s

Other Shipping News

Wednesday, the same week of the grounding, saw a sad event in the shipping industry.

Engineer Gary Charlton, of Nova Scotia, was reported missing on Wednesday, October 20 by the crew of the Canadian Provider after he failed to report for his scheduled shift onboard. Charlton, 59, was last seen in the early morning hours while the ship was traveling across Lake Ontario, about 11 miles offshore from Rochester, New York, on a downbound course heading towards the St. Lawrence River. At roughly 1:30 p.m., nearly eight hours after he was last seen, the Canadian Provider made a call for assistance to the United States Coast Guard as the ship passed through the American Narrows near Alexandria Bay. Search and Rescue crews, including planes, helicopters and boats from the United States and Canada sprung into action in and spread across Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River attempting to locate the sailor.

The search however would be called off just 25 hours after the report that he was missing came in. Due to the fact that more than 3,000 square miles needed to be covered in an attempt to locate the sailor, plus the weather and water conditions played factors in that decision.

"The search has been called off and the case is now being treated as a missing persons case," a spokesperson from Upper Lakes Shipping, owners of the Canadian Provider, shared via phone from their office in Toronto. "There is no suspect of foul play and our thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family and to the crew of the Canadian Provider."

Charlton was a 30-plus year employee of the company and known by everyone. His wife is also employed by Upper Lakes as a crew member.
The Canadian Provider is a Canadian registered vessel built in 1963 and measures more than 700-feet in length. The ship was carrying a load of grain at the time of the incident.

By Michael Folsom, The Ship Watcher

Michael Folsom  is a regular contributor to TI Life.   You can visit him on the web at: the shipwatcher.  Many of us did just that during the “groundings” this summer.  In fact it was Mike’s reports that were featured on the local website Also his was the only local news media that covered the missing sailor articles.   

Michael is an accomplished photographer.  Several of his photographs have appeared here at Thousand Islands Life, in print in the Thousand Islands Sun, as well as appearing on the cover of the Thousand Islands Sun Vacationer.  In addition, some of Michael's work can be seen in the 51st edition of the book Know Your Ships. When not on the River, Michael can be found on the ‘Ice’ as the Senior Director of Sales & Game Operations for the Syracuse Crunch Hockey Club. He and his wife just welcomed the birth of their first little "ship watcher", Lucy.   You can follow the ships and Michael at

The ‘Not Easy Being On A Ship’ series, which was originally scheduled to return this month, will now return with Part II in December.

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Robert LePage
Comment by: Robert LePage ( )
Left at: 2:42 PM Monday, November 15, 2010
So that's it. No drug test, no penalty, no fine etc? What is he doing on the wrong side of the chanel marker? This is disgusting. If I drive my car down a one way street, I get a fine. I haven't heard of any fine for these groundings. The person in charge should be suspended and tested to make sure they know what they are doing before they are in charge of a ship again. They own the river. They drain the water as they with with no regard to all the people that live and work along the river. Maybe all shipping should be halted on the river. I hope something is done before an oil tanker sinks and destroys the entire river.
Robert LePage
Herb Swingle
Comment by: Herb Swingle ( )
Left at: 6:28 PM Monday, November 15, 2010
This entire mess could be avoidable,but we know that our elected officials could care less.It's like they don't put a traffic light up at an intersection until someone is killed.Our state leaders will not and never takes controversional stands unless it is to thier benefit.Maybe our Governor can't see his way clear to put a tax or fee on St.Lawrence river shipping competence!
Dan Massey
Comment by: Dan Massey ( )
Left at: 4:59 PM Tuesday, November 16, 2010
I have a slide of a ship with a slit blown in the hull. My father told me that it was a ship carrying a cargo of beans. Somehow water got into the cargo and as the beans began to swell it split the hull. I wish I had listened more closely. To the best of my knowledge this happened in the mid 50's. Perhaps someone could shed light on this for me.

John Swale
Comment by: John Swale ( )
Left at: 3:05 PM Monday, November 22, 2010
LePage is right! We should fine or penalize every boat that bumps a shoal! Or even gets close to one! Or sees bottom!

Hmmm. Plane stop airline travel, right? Use your head.

BTW Bob, the Master and crew were drug and alcohol tested within the prescribed time limits, with the USCG present. Results were negative. Captain lost his job anyway.
Viktor Kaczkowski
Comment by: Viktor Kaczkowski ( )
Left at: 2:21 PM Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Re Dan Massey's inquiry - without seeing the slide I would hazard a guess that it was the Vilja which grounded in the Brockville Narrows in 1959. If he could get a copy of the slide to me, I'd be happy to help him out.

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