Everett frigate’s mishap caught Navy’s eye

By SUSANNA RAY

Herald Writer

An accident involving an Everett-based Navy frigate was one of eight in the past year that led officials to order a one-day break in operations to focus on safety, the Navy Times newspaper reported.

The USS Ingraham scraped the bottom of the Fremont Cut on its way back to Everett after visiting Seattle for boating season’s opening day in early May.

The information was not released to the public at the time because it was considered minor, said Lt. Cmdr. Bill Fenick, spokesman for Navy Region Northwest. No one was injured, and the ship had limited damage to its propeller, costing taxpayers about $30,000.

But the Navy Times reported Monday Othat a spate of eight collisions and groundings since October 1999 had prompted Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark on Sept. 14 to order a standdown for all ships and submarines.

Clark told sailors to spend a full day focusing on basic seamanship, navigation and leadership. It was the first such standdown since 1989.

The article stated that the incidents were alarming Navy officials already worried about their overworked and undermanned sea force.

None of the mishaps resulted in death. They ranged from minor groundings, such as the Ingraham’s, to major collisions, such as the one near Hawaii in July between the amphibious transport dock ship Denver and the oiler Yukon. The crash tore an enormous hole in the Denver’s hull.

In the Oct. 9 edition, the weekly newspaper reports that two more accidents occurred in the final weeks of September. Two ships bumped in the Mediterranean and another briefly ran aground off the coast of Texas. Both were minor.

The Navy hasn’t yet released its findings on what caused the Ingraham accident, Fenick said.

The warship went to Seattle on a much-publicized trip May 5, when it successfully squeezed through the Ballard Locks and into Lake Union. It was moored at the NOAA pier that weekend for public tours, and then left at 5:51 a.m. Monday to return to Everett.

At 6:34 a.m., as it was going back through the Fremont Cut, the frigate lost its steering control from the bridge, Fenick said. The crew immediately switched to manual steering by sailors stationed near the engine room and tried to figure out the problem.

"At 6:37, they felt some slight shuddering and they assumed the ship had touched bottom on the starboard (right) side," Fenick said.

Officials had spent months planning the difficult trip, since the Ingraham is 453 feet long, 45 feet wide and 124 feet tall, and the Fremont Cut is an average of 150 to 175 feet across.

On the way to Seattle, the frigate’s captain, Cmdr. Rich Fitzpatrick, had remarked that at one point there was only 4 to 5 feet of water below the ship and about 10 feet — "but it looked a lot closer" — between the ship’s antenna and the bottom of the Aurora bridge.

The planners had taken care to provide a contingency plan in case something went awry. Two tugs were attached to the ship that morning, one in front and one in back, with slack lines. They immediately tightened the lines to keep the Ingraham in place.

Five minutes later, the bridge had its steering control back, Fenick said, and 15 minutes after that the ship was back on its own power, "and they just proceeded on slowly through the Fremont Cut and into the Ballard Locks."

Once the Ingraham got into the Puget Sound and picked up speed, sailors felt it shudder, so it continued on to Everett at a slower speed of 10 knots, or about 12 miles per hour. Divers here discovered that the five propeller blades were damaged, but there were no marks on the outside of the ship.

Fenick said he didn’t know why sailors lost steering control or how they got it back. In the meantime, the Ingraham has a new propeller at a cost of about $30,000.

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