New Carissa

New Carissa
The New Carissa
The bow of the M/V New Carissa
Career (Panama) Panama
Builder: Imabari Shipbuilding Co.,  Japan
Laid down: August 30, 1989
Homeport: Manila,  Philippines
Fate: Ran aground near Coos Bay, Oregon on February 4, 1999; broke apart on beach. Bow towed out to sea, sunk. Stern section remained ashore until being dismantled and removed in 2008.
Notes: Call sign 3ELY7
Lloyd's number L8716136
General characteristics
Length: 195 m (639.4 ft)
Beam: 32.2 m (106 ft)
Draft: 10.8 m (35.5 ft) at full load
Propulsion: Direct Drive Diesel
Mitsubishi Sulzer 6RTA52
8200 bhp
Capacity: Dry Bulk Freight
Net tonnage of 16,524 t
Complement: 26 crew

Coordinates: 43°23.92′N 124°18.71′W / 43.39867°N 124.31183°W / 43.39867; -124.31183

The M/V New Carissa was a freighter that ran aground on a beach near Coos Bay, Oregon, United States, during a storm in February 1999, and subsequently broke apart. An attempt to tow the bow section of the ship out to sea failed when the tow line broke, and the bow was grounded again. Eventually, the bow was successfully towed out to sea and sunk. The stern section remained on the beach near Coos Bay. Fuel on board the ship was burned off in situ, but a significant amount was also spilled from the wreckage, causing ecological damage to the coastline.

The United States Coast Guard performed an investigation and found that captain's error was the main cause of the wreck; however, no criminal liability was established and the captain and crew were not charged. There were significant legal and financial consequences for the ship's owners and insurer.

The stern section remained aground for over nine years. It was dismantled and removed from the beach in 2008.



The New Carissa was a Panamanian-flagged dry bulk freighter optimized for carriage of wood chips owned by the Japanese shipping concern Nippon Yusen Kaisha via a subsidiary, Green Atlas Shipping. The vessel was built by Imabari Shipbuilding Co. in Japan using an all-steel construction, and was laid down on August 30, 1989. The freighter was 195 meters (639 ft) long and 32 meters (106 ft) wide, with a draft of 10.8 m (35.5 ft) when fully loaded. It had a gross tonnage of 36,571 tons, a net tonnage of 16,524 tons, and was powered by an 8,200 bhp (6,100 kW) direct-drive diesel engine. It had a maximum crew complement of 26 sailors, and was in service hauling wood chips (used for paper pulp production). The ship's home port was Manila, Philippines, and its crew at the time of its grounding consisted entirely of Philippine nationals, commanded by Benjamin Morgado. The ship was insured by Shipowners Insurance and Guaranty Company Ltd. (SIGCo) of Hamilton, Bermuda.[1] [2]


Incident map of the New Carissa wreck, February 14, 1999

On February 4, 1999, the New Carissa was bound for the Port of Coos Bay to pick up a load of wood chips. The ship's crew was informed by the local bar pilots that weather conditions would prevent the ship (which was empty at the time) from entering Coos Bay harbor until the next morning. The captain ordered the ship to drop anchor 1.7 nautical miles (3.1 km) off the coast in order to ride out the storm. The crew used a single anchor to secure the ship, and according to a United States Coast Guard review of the incident, used a chain that was too short. The short chain and the weather conditions, including winds of 20–25 knots (37–46 km/h), caused the ship to drag its anchor. Poor navigational techniques and inadequate watchkeeping led to the crew's failure to notice that the ship was moving. Once movement was detected, the crew attempted to raise anchor and maneuver away from the shore, but the weather and sea conditions made this difficult. By the time the anchor was raised, the ship had been pushed too close to the shore to recover.[1]

The ship ran aground on the beach 2.7 statute miles (4.5 km) north of the entrance to Coos Bay, and attempts to refloat it failed. Two of the five fuel tanks on the ship began to leak fuel onto the beach, eventually spilling approximately 70,000 US gallons (260 m3) of thick "bunker C" fuel oil and diesel onto the beach and into the water.[3][4]

Neither the captain nor any of the 22-man crew was injured in the incident.

Rescue and recovery operations

Recovery operations began immediately when the grounding was first reported by the ship's crew. Several factors combined to severely complicate the operation. A Unified Command for the operation, consisting of representatives from the Coast Guard, the State of Oregon, and rescue party operations, was quickly established.

Initial rescue attempts

The New Carissa, still intact shortly after running aground

Initial rescue operations were hampered by inclement weather. Attempts to move the New Carissa under her own power failed, and tugboat assistance was not available immediately after the grounding. Only one tugboat was available locally, but it was unable to cross the Coos Bay bar because of safety concerns. It was also uncertain whether or not the locally available tugboat could have successfully rescued the New Carissa. The nearest salvage tugboat capable of towing a large ship off a beach, the Salvage Chief, was moored at its home port of Astoria, Oregon, 200 statute miles (320 km) to the north, a 24-hour journey away. The Salvage Chief had not sailed in over a year, and it took 18 hours to fuel, provision, and find a crew for the ship. Once mobilized, poor weather in the Astoria area prevented the tugboat from crossing the treacherous Columbia River bar for an additional two days. The Salvage Chief did not arrive in the area until February 8, four days after the grounding occurred.[5]

Continued poor weather drove the New Carissa closer to the shore. Technical teams from two salvage contractors, Smit International and Salvage Master, had been working with the Coast Guard since February 5 and had drawn up plans to attempt to refloat the vessel, but when cracks in the hull and oil leaks were observed on February 8, any refloating attempts were precluded by the focus on preventing of a large-scale oil spill.[6] In addition, the Salvage Chief, upon its arrival, was unable to reach the New Carissa with its tow gear. On February 10, the New Carissa suffered major structural failure when the hull breached near the engine room, flooding the engines with seawater (and thus disabling them). The ship's insurers declared the vessel to be a total loss. As a result, the New Carissa was no longer a salvageable vessel; instead, it had effectively become a shipwreck.[5]

Wreck recovery operations

The New Carissa's fuel tanks are ignited.

Since the vessel was no longer seaworthy and could not move under its own power, even if freed from the beach, the focus of the operation changed. Oil from the ship's fuel tanks continued to pose an environmental hazard, a situation exacerbated by both the ship's structural failure and continuing pounding from the surf. In order to mitigate the situation, the Unified Command decided to set the fuel tanks on fire in order to burn off the oil. The first attempt was made on February 10. Napalm and other incendiary devices were used to ignite the fuel, but only one of the diesel tanks was burned effectively. A second attempt was made on February 11 when US Navy explosive experts placed 39 shaped charges to breach the top of the fuel tanks from within the cargo holds. 2,280 liters of napalm and nearly 180 kg of plastic explosives were also used to ignite the fuel on board. The ship burned for approximately 33 hours.[6] Additional smaller-scale attempts were made to burn more oil over the next two days, with limited success. The total amount of oil that was burned is estimated to be between 165,000 and 255,000 US gallons (620 and 970 m3).[6] The structural stress caused by the fire, combined with continued severe weather, caused the vessel to break into two sections around midnight on February 11.

The New Carissa's fuel burns as a harbor seal looks on.

On March 2, salvors managed to float the 440–foot (132 m) bow section and tow it out to sea for disposal. The vessel with the bow section under tow encountered another storm 40 miles (65 km) off the coast, and the tow line broke. The bow section floated for fourteen hours until it ran aground near Waldport, Oregon, approximately 80 miles (130 km) to the north of the original grounding site. One week later, on March 9, the bow was again refloated and successfully towed by the tugboat Sea Victory 248 miles (400 km) off the coast, where the Pacific is approximately 10,000 feet (3,000 m) deep. It was sunk at that location by two US Navy ships, the destroyer USS David R. Ray and the submarine USS Bremerton. Four hundred pounds (180 kg) of high explosives were attached to the bow and detonated.[7] Sixty-nine rounds of gunfire from the David R. Ray's 5-inch (127 mm) deck guns then punctured the hull, and the Bremerton fired a Mark 48 torpedo at the underside of the ship. The bow section flooded and sank stern-first, trapping the remaining oil within.[8]

Attempts to refloat and tow the stern section were unsuccessful. An on-site dismantling of the wreck was considered, but was rejected at the time over environmental concerns.[9]

Environmental impact

An oil-soaked bird is rescued by a cleanup worker after the New Carissa wreck.

The wreck of the New Carissa caused what is considered by many to be one of the most serious oil spills to affect the state of Oregon, and the worst since a 1984 spill near Longview, Washington, which dumped 200,000 US gallons (760 m3) of oil into the Columbia River.[10] As Oregon has no significant oil refinery facilities, oil tankers do not often dock at its ports, making the state relatively safe from oil spills.[11] Analysis conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that over 3,000 shorebirds and seabirds perished. The birds belonged to more than 50 species.[12][13] Among the birds killed were 262 threatened Marbled Murrelets and between four and eight endangered Western Snowy Plovers.[14] Harbor Seals, fish, and shellfish were also killed or affected. Several beaches were fouled, with tarballs continuing to wash up for more than a month after the wreck.[15]

Despite the large loss of marine life, the initial burning of the oil and the successful removal of the bow section prevented what could have been a worse spill. Captain Mike Hall of the Coast Guard stated that "at least 82 percent of the oil onboard the New Carissa never reached the wildlife or the pristine shoreline of Oregon's coast".[15] The environmental impact of the sinking of the bow section was thought to be minimized since it was towed out beyond the continental shelf, into very deep water. Any remaining oil on board is unlikely to have affected marine life since the low temperatures at the bottom of the ocean would have caused it to solidify.[16]

Environmentalists and local officials were concerned that the remains of the stern section posed a continuing environmental and safety hazard.[9]

Legal aftermath

Subsequent litigation has proven expensive for the ship's owners, and an investigation into the incident delayed most of the crew's return to their home country.


In 2001, Green Atlas Shipping and its insurer sued the United States for US$96 million, claiming negligence on the part of the Coast Guard due to faulty nautical charts.[9] The U.S. countersued for US$7 million in damages. In 2004, the two sides reached an agreement in which Green Atlas would pay the U.S. US$10.5 million to assist with cleanup costs, and the U.S. paid Green Atlas US$4 million in settlement of the faulty charts claim. The net result of the settlement was payment of US$6.5 million to the U.S.[17] Although this was far less than the damages claimed by the U.S. for environmental cleanup and restoration costs, government officials still saw the settlement as a victory since the shipping company was forced to pay for part of the damage. Some Coos County officials were dissatisfied with the settlement, however, stating that it should have instead been paid to local business owners who were hurt by the beach's closure.[18]

The State of Oregon demanded that the ship's owners or their insurers remove the ship or pay a US$25 million bond to cover the cost of removing the ship and for environmental damages. The state also filed a lawsuit in Coos County, demanding removal, storage fees of USD $1,500 per day, restoration of the beach, and other unspecified damages. The ship's owners alleged faulty navigational charts, failure on the part of the local bar pilots to advise the ship's crew not to anchor in the area, and an unusually strong storm surge. On November 13, 2002, a Coos County jury found the ship's owners guilty of negligent trespass, and awarded the state US$25 million in damages. That sum was placed in escrow, pending appeal.[9] On May 23, 2006, a settlement was reached in the appeal in which the state kept US$20 million of the US$25 million in escrow, plus US$2.1 million in interest earned on the escrow account. The remaining US$5 million was returned to Green Atlas Shipping. Of the US$22.1 million that the state was awarded in the settlement, US$3.1 million was used to pay the state's legal fees. The remaining US$19 million was reserved for cleanup, including the planned removal of the vessel's stern.[19][20]

The New Carissa, after breaking into two sections.

Numerous private parties, including at least one oyster farmer whose beds were contaminated by oil, have also successfully sued for damages.[21]

Crew investigation

The captain and most of the crew of the ship—all nationals of the Philippines—had to face a U.S. Coast Guard Board of Inquiry, which required them to remain in the United States for several weeks after the wreck. In addition, a federal grand jury investigated the incident for criminal wrongdoing. Captain Morgado refused to answer many of the questions posed at the inquiry, citing his Fifth Amendment rights. The crew was released after their testimony and returned to the Philippines.[22] On September 16, the Coast Guard issued its findings that captain's error was the primary cause of the wreck, with the first and third officers of the ship also partly responsible. The investigation found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, and no charges were filed against any member of the New Carissa crew.[1]

Dismantling and removal of stern section

The stern of the New Carissa rests on the beach, October 7, 1999.

While the attempts to tow the stern out to sea failed (and were later deemed unworkable by authorities), the State of Oregon still intended to see the remainder of the vessel removed from the beach. The settlement of the lawsuit against the ship's owners cleared the legal obstacles that prevented removal, and provided the funds necessary to finance the project. The removal was complicated by the fact that the ship had become deeply embedded in the sand, with some portions of the stern estimated to be 20–30 feet (6–9 m) below the sand line.[23]

Titan Maritime jackup barges and cranes during the New Carissa dismantling, July 2008.

A project to remove the stern by dismantling it on the beach was started in June 2008, after Oregon legislative approval.[24] The dismantling, expected to cost USD $18 million, was approved by the State Legislative Emergency Board in September 2006.[25] The move was originally scheduled for 2007, but delays in the negotiations pushed the project back a year. Due to weather and surf conditions, the project had to be undertaken during the spring and summer months.[25] Titan Maritime Company, a subsidiary of Crowley Maritime Corporation, signed a USD $16.4 million contract with the Oregon Department of State Lands.[9][26] Titan Maritime used large jackup barges, the Karlissa A and Karlissa B, for the New Carissa dismantling project. Once the barges were in place, a cable car system was installed to allow the crews and their equipment access to the barges from the beach.[24] The barges allowed the crews to access the wreck from 40 ft (12.2 m) above the surf.[24] The crews cut the New Carissa into removable pieces and then lifted them to the barges with cranes.[23] The cutting portion of Titan's plan was largely completed by July 31, 2008, and the company then focused on pulling the stern from the sand, a process that was measured in inches.[27][28] The project's managing director expressed confidence that the removal deadline of October 1, 2008 would be met.[24][29] By September 2008, Titan had successfully removed the majority of the wreck; no part of the ship was visible from above the water, and only a few relatively small pieces remained submerged.[30] The Karlissa A and Karlissa B were relocated on October 12, 2008, and Titan's shore operations were completely removed by November 2008.[31]

Debate about removal

Prior to the dismantling project, there was debate by local residents on whether the wrecked stern should be removed. Some local officials believed the stern, which lay on a remote area of the beach, was not a hazard or an eyesore. Arnie Roblan, a state representative from Coos Bay, called the wreck a potential tourist attraction.[32] For some residents, uncertainty remained surrounding Titan's removal plan, with the worry that the stern would be unable to withstand the force of the hydraulic pullers and that parts of the ship already buried in the sand would be unmovable. The president of the Coos Bay city council expressed concern that the proposed removal operation could cause ecological damage that would not occur if the ship were left on the beach. He further noted that "shipwrecks on the Oregon Coast are part of our history. There are a lot of ways you could better spend the money here.”[23]

Many others argued that the ship should be removed. Louise Solliday, the director of the Oregon Department of State Lands, called the removal of the stern a necessary step to demonstrate that the state is "serious about removing wrecks". She stated that if the stern were not removed, the argument that the ship is trespassing on state property (used in the state's lawsuit against the New Carissa owners) would be undermined should another vessel wreck off the Oregon coast.[20] The sentiment was later echoed by Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, who also noted that the settlement of the lawsuit with the ship's owners leaves the state exposed to any liability issues concerning the ship.[23] Many environmentalists, as well as federal biologists and residents of the local community, were concerned about the potential for further ecological damage should the vessel leak any of the fuel oil that remained on board.[9] The editorial board of The Oregonian argued that allowing the stern to remain would send a message that the state is willing to "tolerate permanent damage to its beaches". The newspaper also rejected the notion that the wreckage should be compared to the Peter Iredale, a sailing ship that wrecked on a beach near Astoria in the early 1900s, and whose remnants are a popular tourist draw.[33]

In popular culture

Portland-based musician Sarah Dougher's 2000 album The Walls Ablaze included a song titled "The New Carissa".[34]


  1. ^ a b c US Coast Guard (1999-09-16) (PDF). New Carissa One-Man Formal Investigation. Retrieved 2006-06-13. [dead link]
  2. ^ Haworth, R.B. Miramar Ship Index: New Carissa.
  3. ^ Environmental Global Issues Map: New Carissa Oil Spill on the Oregon Coast. McGraw-Hill. 1999-03. Retrieved 2006-06-13. 
  4. ^ It is impossible to determine the exact amounts of fuel oil and diesel that were spilled. The figure most commonly quoted by both media and government sources is 70,000 US gallons (260 m3). The US Fish and Wildlife Service has noted that some estimates ranged from 25,000 to 140,000 US gallons (95 to 530 m3).
  5. ^ a b Review Committee, M. Lehman-Chair et al. (2000-04) (PDF). New Carissa: Report and Recommendations to the Governor of the State of Oregon. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Retrieved 2006-06-13. 
  6. ^ a b c Michel, Jacqueline (PDF). Interim Preassessment Report, M/V New Carissa Oil Spill, Coos Bay and Waldport, Oregon. US Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved 2006-11-21. 
  7. ^ Coast Guard Unified Command (1999-04-19) (PDF). Final Disposal Operations memorandum. United States Coast Guard. Retrieved 2006-06-13. [dead link]
  8. ^ "Bow of New Carissa Sinks to Resting Site" (Press release). New Carissa joint information center. 1999-03-11. Retrieved 2006-06-13. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f "The Wreck of the New Carissa". Land and Waterway Management. Oregon Department of State Lands. Retrieved 2006-06-13. 
  10. ^ "Oil spills and near-misses in Northwest waters". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 2002-11-21. 
  11. ^ (PDF) U.S. Directory of Operable Petroleum Refineries. Energy Information Administration. 2004. 
  12. ^ (PDF) The New Carissa Damage Assessment Restoration Plan "Q&A".. US Fish and Wildlife Service. Archived from the original on June 25, 2006. Retrieved 2006-06-13. 
  13. ^ Merems, Arlene (1999-09-15) (PDF). Morgue species count update (memorandum). Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Archived from the original on June 25, 2006. Retrieved 2006-06-13. 
  14. ^ Skrabis, Kristin E., Ph.D. (2005-05-24) (PDF). Resource Equivalency Analysis for Western Snowy Plover. US Department of the Interior. Archived from the original on June 25, 2006. Retrieved 2006-06-13. 
  15. ^ a b "Oil Skimmer Oregon Responder Does Not Find Oil After Bow of New Carissa Sinks" (Press release). New Carissa joint information center. 1999-03-12. Retrieved 2006-06-13. 
  16. ^ "New Carissa Midway to Final Resting Place" (Press release). New Carissa joint information center. 1999-03-09. Retrieved 2006-06-13. 
  17. ^ "The Wreck of the New Carissa timeline". Land and Waterway Management. Oregon Department of State Lands. Retrieved 2006-08-16. 
  18. ^ "U.S. agrees on New Carissa settlement". Associated Press. 2004-06-10. Retrieved 2006-06-13. 
  19. ^ "State Land Board approves settlement to remove wreckage of New Carissa" (Press release). Oregon Department of State Lands. 2006-05-23. Retrieved 2006-08-16. 
  20. ^ a b O'Neill, Patrick (2006-05-24). "Channel cleared for New Carissa's last trip". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2006-06-13. 
  21. ^ "A 1999 Cargo Disaster (A Maritime Saga): The Loss Of M/V New Carissa". The Cargo Letter. 2001-10. Retrieved 2006-06-13. 
  22. ^ Rumler, John (1999-03-11). "The Sailors Behind the Shipwreck". AsianWeek. Retrieved 2006-06-13. 
  23. ^ a b c d "State Determined to Remove New Carissa". Associated Press. 2006-08-15. Retrieved 2006-06-15. 
  24. ^ a b c d Guzman, Jolene (2008-06-03). "Titan moves barge into place next to New Carissa". The World (Coos Bay, Oregon). Retrieved 2006-07-31. 
  25. ^ a b Carl Mickelson (2007-01-10). "New Carissa will remain beached for another year". The World (Coos Bay, Oregon). 
  26. ^ "The New Carissa - Q & A" (pdf). Oregon Department of State Lands. 2008-07-29. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  27. ^ Guzman, Jolene (2008-07-31). "It's come full circle". The World (Coos Bay, Oregon). Retrieved 2006-07-31. 
  28. ^ "Waves help shift the New Carissa". The World (Coos Bay, Oregon). 2008-07-31. Retrieved 2006-07-31. 
  29. ^ Guzman, Jolene (2008-07-29). "General Chaos". The World (Coos Bay, Oregon). Retrieved 2006-07-31. 
  30. ^ Banse, Tom (2008-08-25). "New Carissa Going... Going... Not Quite Gone". OPB News. Retrieved 2008-08-26. 
  31. ^ "The Wreck of the New Carissa: Information Updates". Oregon Department of State Lands. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  32. ^ McCall, William (2006-05-23). "Land board settles New Carissa shipwreck cleanup for $22 million". Associated Press. Retrieved 2007-03-30. 
  33. ^ "Beach cleanup: The New Carissa must go". The Oregonian. 2006-05-28. Retrieved 2006-08-16. 
  34. ^ Wilson, Mackenzie. "The Walls Ablaze review". Retrieved 3 August 2011. 


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