Cargo ship runs aground Friday on Round Reef


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ST. CROIX - The V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources is scheduled this morning to begin assessing whether a commercial cargo vessel that ran aground on Round Reef just outside Christiansted harbor Friday night caused any damage to corals or fishery habitats.

The vessel, a 221-foot ship named Commander, was able to successfully refloat itself during high tide Saturday and free itself from the reef and is now anchored to the north and east of Protestant Cay.

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the grounding.

Officials said that there is no sign of anything leaking from the ship.

DPNR spokesman Jamal Nielsen said Monday afternoon that the assessment checking for damages to corals and fishery habitat is scheduled to start first thing this morning and that DPNR's divisions of Coastal Zone Management and Fish and Wildlife will be working together. Depending on whether there is damage, DPNR may assess fines or penalties.

"That's one of our natural resources," Nielsen said. "We'll definitely assess fines if they apply."

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is waiting to receive a tow plan on how the owners plan to remove the vessel from where it currently is anchored, according to Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad.

"We don't know where they would be taking it at this point," Castrodad said. "That's still being worked out."

According to Castrodad, the vessel has some damage, but no longer poses an environmental threat.

"An assessment made by divers didn't find any signs of leaking," he said. "But it's missing its rudders. Obviously, the vessel cannot navigate."

According to a statement the Coast Guard released during the weekend, besides minor scratches, there appears to be no major damage to the vessel's hull.

Late Monday afternoon, Castrodad said he did not know what the vessel had been carrying. Although the Coast Guard does know who the owner is, Castrodad said, he did not at that point have the information with him.

The Commander had been departing St. Croix when it ran aground, he said.

According to officials, the Commander ran aground on Round Reef, which is just outside of Christiansted harbor, sometime after 9 p.m. on Friday. DPNRs' Division of Environmental Enforcement and the V.I. Police Departments' Marine Unit were the first responding agencies on scene.

DPNR notified the Coast Guard, and the Resident Inspection Office and Boat Forces St. Croix personnel responded, Castrodad said.

No one was injured in the grounding.

"The biggest concern was the environmental threat that his vessel would have presented if it would have stayed aground," Castrodad said.

Once it was determined that nothing was leaking from the grounded ship, there had been discussions on how best to get the boat off the reef and minimize environmental impact, according to the Coast Guard. That operation became unnecessary when the boat was able to refloat with high tide Saturday and free itself from the reef.

"It is extremely fortunate that this vessel was promptly refloated after having grounded on Round Reef," Capt. Drew Pearson, Commander, U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Juan, said in prepared statement. "The aggressive response and close coordination between all agencies in the U.S. Virgin Islands ensured safety of the public while averting an environmental tragedy in Christiansted Harbor."

A statement issued last weekend by the Coast Guard said marine casualty investigators are investigating the cause of the grounding and future actions for the MV Commander are being evaluated.

Castrodad said the Coast Guard and local agencies would be working together.

He said he did not have a time frame for when the investigation into the cause of the accident would be completed.

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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