Fresh problems surface on BP's oil tanker fleet

Test finds dozens of ships with defective mooring securings

Posted: Friday, February 09, 2007

ANCHORAGE - BP has reported more problems with its new fleet of oil tankers after a scramble to repair cracked rudders and faulty anchors.

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One of the stout metal posts used to secure mooring and tug ropes popped off a tanker, and tests found that dozens more on three of the four ships were defective.

The posts, called mooring bitts, have been replaced, company officials said.

The mooring bitt broke off the tanker Alaskan Navigator in September as a tug pulled it toward the dock in Valdez, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, the ship's operator and a Valdez-based oil-industry watchdog group.

The heavy iron bitt flew off the side of the ship and into the water, said Cmdr. Michael Gardiner, captain of the port for the Coast Guard in Valdez.

"If you were standing near it, it probably would have scared you pretty good," he said.

The ship's operator, Alaska Tanker Co. of Beaverton, Ore., used X-rays and other tests to find additional defective bitts.

Other structural problems have been found in the fleet of $250 million double-hull tankers, which started carrying North Slope crude oil to West Coast refineries in the summer of 2004.

In spring 2005, cracks were discovered in the rudders of two of the ships. And in December, 16-ton anchors broke off two of the ships as they crossed the Gulf of Alaska with loads of oil.

Managers with Alaska Tanker Co., whose ships carry oil exclusively for BP, said the rudders and anchors have been repaired or replaced.

Anil Mathur, president of the tanker company, said the string of problems has been a disappointment, but he believes the ships are fundamentally safe.

"If I did not, we would not be running them," he said.

John Devens of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council, a congressionally sanctioned and industry-funded watchdog group, called the glitches "troubling."

The new double-hull ships built by another oil company, Conoco Phillips, don't seem to be having the same kind of problems, he said.

Devens said the problems may have originated in the San Diego shipyard that built the tankers.

"The facility that built the BP tankers, it would seem obvious that some of the materials they used were substandard," Devens said. "We don't blame BP for it."

Oil companies were required to replace their single-hull oil tankers with more robust double hulls after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in 1989. Today, most ships that call on the Valdez port have a double hull.

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