Port Chicago, Concord, California

This case study involves an incident in Port Chicago, Concord, California.  Although relatively simple at the outset – a vessel with steering failure alliding with a berth causing significant damage – the local circumstances meant that it was anythin...
Published 26th August 2016 by
Published in Sector: Expertise: ,

This case study involves an incident in Port Chicago, Concord, California.  Although relatively simple at the outset – a vessel with steering failure alliding with a berth causing significant damage – the local circumstances meant that it was anything but.

Port Chicago, now known as the Military Ocean Terminal Concord (MOTCO) is a military munitions and general cargo transhipment facility. It accounts for 72 percent of all Department of Defence (DOD) West Coast ammunition handling capacity. It was also the site of a major World War II disaster when a Navy cargo ship being loaded with munitions exploded.  The blast killed 320 sailors and civilians and injured 390 others and could be felt 30 miles away.  The incident led to the infamous Port Chicago mutiny and summary court-martials.

The berth allision immediately triggered full security alerts as the US naval base initially feared the collision might have been a terrorist attack.   Once investigations established steering failure as the cause of the accident, the US naval engineering division surveyed the damage and estimated the cost of repairs in excess of USD $5 million.

A local surveyor and legal correspondent appointed by the vessel’s P&I Club, suggested that the repairs might actually be completed for USD $1million, which was when LOC’s specialist expertise was called in.   After examining the damage, LOC agreed with the local surveyor’s lower estimate and advised the P&I Club on the best course of action in the circumstances – to offer to complete the repairs to the berth, managed and supervised by LOC.

Because the port is an active military base, all proposals had to be submitted to, and approved by, senior officials in Washington.  Officials had to consider and approve each tender proposal, each bid, the contracts for the design work and then to approve the same, for each stage of the construction process. To add an additional level of complexity during this process, the responsibility and therefore the decision making personnel for the base, changed from the US Navy to the US Army.

Because of its location the construction work had to comply with the San Francisco Bay Plan Policies on fish and other aquatic organisms, and the Endangered Species Act. LOC therefore commissioned an environmental impact study in order to obtain the necessary construction approvals. A construction window had to be imposed to mitigate the impacts to listed fish species and essential fish habitat which could arise as a result of increased turbidity and underwater noise during construction.

With the design completed and approvals secured, the pre-construction kick off meeting was held.  Only there was it announced that the entire area was classed as an area of unexploded ordnance, due to the Second World War explosion. A specialist unexploded ordnance (UXO) survey would be required before anything moved further.  LOC organised and managed the survey.

Overall, this complex project involved unprecedented levels of administration, in a politically and historically sensitive location and yet under LOC’s management it came in on budget at less than USD$ 1 million and on time despite the many complications and changing requirements.

Keith says that several factors contributed to the successful outcome; the direct link to the Senior Claims Executive at the P&I Club which enabled close working and liaison at all times, nominated decision making points of contact between the two main contracting parties, and most importantly for the benefit of the club, agreed milestone sign off points, which were forcefully administered. Once a milestone had been signed off it could not be revisited.

Overall, LOC’s expertise saved the P&I Club and its member considerable expense and an acceptable timescale for the release of securities was achieved.