Tug tows disabled ship to shore

Wednesday, March 7, 2007 – 12:00 AM

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HARRY GARDNER

The Gladiator, a 136-foot-long tugboat owned by Crowley Maritime, is stationed at Neah Bay throughout the winter to rescue disabled ships.

By Ashley Bach
Seattle Times Eastside bureau

The Khorol was flagging. Smoke was billowing out of the cargo ship’s smokestack, a sign of engine distress, and it was slowing down just four miles from its destination, Port Angeles.

Then the ship stopped cold. The engine was dead.

Capt. Don Zeagler had to spring into action.

Zeagler is one of the captains of a tugboat stationed at Neah Bay each winter to rescue disabled ships in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and off the Pacific coast. The boat’s latest rescue unfolded last weekend with the usual high stakes: if control of the ship was lost, it could run aground.

“The environmental risk is very great,” said Zeagler, 57. “It’s an important job, and we feel fortunate that we’re … around to protect this coastline.”

The Khorol, based in Cyprus, is a 377-foot-long refrigerated cargo ship that was trying to dock in Port Angeles to pick up a shipment of salmon. It first reported engine problems to the Coast Guard on Friday night, about five miles from the entrance to the strait.

As a precaution, Zeagler and his crew of five took off in their 136-foot-long tugboat, the Gladiator, but were later told the ship was making the necessary repairs.

At noon Saturday, with the Khorol now 25 miles out at sea, the Gladiator returned to the ship and sailed behind as it lumbered slowly toward Port Angeles.

When the engine failed near the port, Zeagler and his crew tied a 600-foot-long, synthetic fiber line to the front of the ship and pulled it into the harbor.

Once the ship was there, Zeagler needed to have more control and tied three lines to the ship’s side and pushed the Khorol the rest of the way.

As the ship approached Port Angeles, the sea was calm and visibility was fair, which made the rescue operation much easier, Zeagler said. “It just went really well for us.”

Zeagler, who lives in Ballard, has been a tugboat captain 21 years for Crowley Maritime, an Oakland, Calif., company. He says he has rescued a dozen ships in his career and towed barges all over the world, from Alaska to the southern tip of South America.

A rescue tugboat has been stationed at Neah Bay each winter since 1999, first funded by the U.S. Navy and then the state, and has rescued 31 ships.

The state pays Crowley $8,500 a day, plus roughly $1,000 a day in fuel costs, to operate the boat. The company took over the state contract on New Year’s Eve and promptly received a call that night, rescuing a drifting fishing boat near Olympic National Park.

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or abach@seattletimes.com

~ by fredfelleman on March 7, 2007.

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