By Al Miller Updated January 2003
The night of August 11, 2001, appeared to be another routine transit of the Welland Canal for the Windoc.
The 730-foot vessel, owned by
N.M. Paterson and Sons Ltd., earlier had loaded 26,000 metric tons of grain in
Thunder Bay, Ontario, consigned for delivery to Montreal. As the Windoc
approached the Allenburg Bridge, Capt. Ken Strong, wheelsman Alan Hiscock, and
the vessel's third mate watched from the pilothouse as the bridge span was
raised to allow their vessel to pass underneath.
But as the pilothouse neared
the bridge, the span unaccountably began coming down. Capt. Strong quickly
ordered his men to abandon the pilothouse, and then he and the third mate
scrambled down an external ladder running from the pilothouse wing to the deck
below. Hiscock, concerned the boat
would drift out of control if he left the wheel, dropped to the floor as the
vessel's pilothouse and the bridge span collided with the shriek of ripping
As the Windoc slid under the
bridge, the span ripped apart the thin-skinned pilothouse, passing above Hiscock
by only two feet. The boat continued on as the bridge span folded back the
remains of the pilothouse, then tore off the exhaust stack off and shoved it
onto the Windoc's fantail. The 15-foot-by-eight-foot exhaust boiler was ripped
free and pushed into the canal.
managed to escape the crumpled pilothouse and run down an interior stairway.
Once on deck, he joined other crew members who were mustering. There they faced
two new threats. Crewmen raced to drop the Windoc's anchors to stop the vessel
from careening out of control in the narrow waterway. But the vessel's momentum
carried it over the anchors, puncturing the hull and threatening the boat with
flooding. At the same time, flames -- probably resulting from the exhaust stack
being torn off -- began appearing inside the Windoc's cabins. Crewmen began
breaking out ship's firefighting gear to battle the rapidly spreading blaze.
The battered boat came to rest
near the canal's banks about 1 kilometer from the bridge. With its bow in
mid-channel and without propulsion or generator power, the Windoc was a dead
ship blocking a key portion of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Local emergency crews responded
to block off the damaged highway bridge and to battle the growing fire in the
Windoc's cabins. Most of the boat's 22 crew members were taken to shelter at a
nearby community center.
None of the crew members were
injured, but perhaps the most fortunate was Hiscock. ``All the metal just
crunched above him. Some of the metal bits came toward him, but nothing touched
him. He was lucky he wasn't hurt,"
said a union official who later listened to crew members' account of the
the afternoon of Sunday, August 12, the Windoc's fires were out and work crews
from the St. Lawrence Seaway had begun planning the salvage of the vessel and
repair of the bridge. The McKeil tug Carrol C1 with salvage equipment was in the
canal waiting for the bridge to open. Another tug from Hamilton was expected to
assist in moving the Windoc, which had suffered flooding in its forward end.
With the Windoc blocking the
channel and the Allenburg Bridge unable to raise its span, the Welland Canal was
forced to close. Vessel traffic quickly began backing up, with boats tying up at
docks or dropping anchor wherever they could. Vessels delayed in the canal
Sunday morning included Canadian Leader and Catherine Desgagnes above Lock 6;
Federal Kivalina at Lock 5; barge St. Marys Cement II and the tug Sea Eagle II
above Lock 3 wall; CSL Tadoussac below Lock 3; Algobay below Lock 2,; Atlantic
Huron at the Stone Dock; the cruise ship Cape May Light at Lock 8; and the
Canadian Olympic at the Port Colborne Fuel Dock.
early Monday, August 13, tugs were on scene working to move the Windoc to clear
the channel. A generator was lowered onto the stricken vessel's deck, enabling
salvage workers to restore some power. The barge Henry T., with a crane on deck,
lifted the Windoc's anchor. Because the boat was fully loaded, four tugs --
Carrol C 1, Paul E No. 1, Lac Vancouver, and Progress -- were needed for the
move. The damaged bridge span was raised about 20 feet to allow the tug Progress
to reach the scene.
After Seaway crews had
determined it was safe to do so, the the Allenburg Bridge was raised about 8:30
p.m. August 13 to a round of applause from about 100 spectators or After a test
lowering and raising, the span was left in the up position, where it was
expected to remain for the rest of the navigation season. Waiting vessels were
told about 10 p.m. to warm their engines, and traffic had resumed by 11 p.m.
Canadian Leader, Catherine Desgagnes, Federal Kivalina and the barge St. Marys
Cement II and the tug Sea Eagle II led the upbound traffic while downbound
vessels were CSL Tadoussac, Algobay, Atlantic Huron, cruise ship Cape May Light
and the Canadian Olympic.
The Windoc's accident was a
tough blow to N.M. Paterson and Sons. The 26,000 mt of wheat aboard the Windoc
appeared to be undamaged, but vessel was so badly damaged that the company
couldn't make an immediate decision on whether to repair or replace it. Early
estimates placed the damage at $5 million to $10 million. Loss of the Windoc cut
25 percent of the company's of its ability to meet customer demand.
"The ship can be repaired,
that is an option," a company official told the Spectator. "I don't
know if that is feasible, but repairs are not out of the question. There's a
whole lot of things that have to happen."
factor in the repair would be insurance money from the St. Lawrence Seaway
Corporation. Investigators were still trying to determine why the bridge span
was lowered prematurely as the Windoc passed underneath.
The Paterson official said one
option the company was considering was to replace the stern of the Windoc with
that of another boat. A likely candidate would be the Windoc's sister,
Algontario. That vessel was damaged in an April 1999 grounding in the St. Marys
River and had been docked in Thunder Bay since then.
The firm had three boats out of
its seven-vessel fleet that hadn't sailed since 1996. The Paterson official
said, "They present options as well, but I'm not sure that is a high
The Windoc remained docked in
the Welland Canal near Lock 7 waiting for a decision to be made on where its
$8-million grain cargo was to be unloaded. Owners of the cargo were looking at
unloading the cargo at elevators in Port Colborne and Windsor. Paterson hoped
for a decision on a unloading port within a week. Once a decision was made the
Windoc would be towed to the selected port.
on September 4, word came that Windoc would be towed from the Welland Canal on
September 5. Two tugs owned by McKeil Marine and two smaller tugs owned by
Nando Marine took the damaged vessel to Hamilton, where part of its cargo would
be unloaded onto a barge. Paterson had declared the vessel a loss and turned the
ship over to the insurers. The insurers contracted with McKeil to handle the
The tugs Josee M., Sea Hound, Vac and Carole C. took the Windoc in tow on the night of September 5. A fully loaded vessel had never been towed that distance through the canal. After a long and careful tow through the canal, tugs took the ship to Hamilton where it arrived on Friday morning and docked at Pier 8 at the foot of James Street. Once unloading in Hamilton was complete, the Windoc was to be towed with a partial load to Montreal. After the remaining cargo was unloaded there, the ship faced an uncertain future
In May 2002 the Windoc hull was once again sold with her news becoming Groupe Ocean of Quebec. The hull remained in Hamilton until early September 2002 when it was towed to Montreal by her new owners. At that time Groupe Ocean was examining three possible uses for the hull. One would be conversion to a tug and barge combination with a notch at the stern, next would see use as a storage barge and finally they could sell the hull for scrap.
Groupe Ocean owns a dry dock in Quebec and a subsidiary of the company is McAllister Towing. With the range of services available to the company many believe the hull will be converted to a barge.
Through out the summer of 2002 the former owners of the Windoc remained in a legal battle with the St. Lawrence Seaway Corp. seeking damages for the loss of the Windoc. Ontario-based NM Paterson & Sons was seeking $16.9M (C) damages from the seaway operator. Paterson claimed that the accident effectively forced it out of the shipping business. Paterson's remaining four ships were sold in 2002 ending their long history of shipping on the lakes and Seaway.
TSB Report - January 2003
In January 2003 the Canadian Transportation Safety Board released a report on the accident involving the Windoc in the Welland Canal. The report was
presented to the public January 9 at a press conference in Thorold, Ont.
Tow to Montreal
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