Freight containers catch a few waves

Strong winds blow four empty containers across Gastineau Channel

Posted: Thursday, January 23, 2003

The wind lifted four 10,000-pound freight containers from a docked barge, breaking chains that held them down, and dumped them in Gastineau Channel Wednesday afternoon.

The containers eventually beached on Douglas Island. No one was injured, and no boats were damaged.

Tom Saytre, manager of container-owner Northland Services, said the containers, measuring 40 feet by 8 feet and weighing about 10,000 pounds apiece, were stacked on the stern of a Northland barge around 3 p.m.

The barge was docked at the rock dump on Thane Road, Saytre said. The containers, three of which were refrigerated, are used to haul freight into and out of Juneau.

Saytre said his crew was loading empty containers onto the barge to prepare for a trip to Seattle. Four stacked containers were chained to the barge, but a gust of wind caught the stack, broke the locks on chains holding it in place, and sent it into flying.

"We've had containers blow over in the yard before, but we've never had one end up in the bay," said Saytre. "Even though they weigh 10,000 pounds, they have so much surface area that you get one big gust of wind and they just go over."

The crew stood by helplessly and watched the wind blow the containers across Gastineau Channel toward Douglas.

According to a National Weather Service official, the wind peaked at 64 mph near the rock dump yesterday, with gusts generally up to 60 mph.

The Coast Guard investigated the incident, said Chief Petty Officer Roger Wetherell, who immediately notified Douglas boat owners when he saw the path of the free-flowing freight containers.

"Ultimately, no one's boat was in the direct path of the containers, so there was no immediate danger to the boats in the area," he said.

After the containers beached on Douglas, they were secured to rocks and logs with rope, Saytre said.

It is too soon to determine the amount of damage to the containers, Saytre said. But it may not be much because they were "riding high" on the water, he added.

"We are still trying to devise a way to retrieve them," Saytre said. "We can't retrieve them until the wind dies down. It just wouldn't be safe or practical."

Pete Rahe, a technician with the National Weather Service in Juneau, said winds are forecasted to die down gradually over the weekend.

Saytre said Northland may look at new ways to secure the containers to the barge to prevent such accidents. Though he said he believes his crew was using standard operating procedures when the incident occurred, the company will take "a long, hard look" at its equipment, he said.

Melanie Plenda can be reached

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