Pier slammed again
City officials closed the pier indefi- nitely after the incident.
Interim City Manager Dave Parsons said it’s too early to say when the pier will be repaired and re-opened. He estimated damage at possibly $60,000 to $80,000.
Police received their first call about the incident at 8:05 a.m. Port Aransan Chris Morris, who was fishing on the pier at the time, said the ship that created the wake was a tanker called the SKS Mersey.
Dan Ralstin of Fairfield was fishing at the end of the pier when he saw the wake rolling toward the pier. He said it was noticeably large even when it was still 100 yards away.
“I could see it was so high, it was probably going to get me wet,” Ralstin said. He started putting his fishing gear away to keep it from getting splashed around.
But the wake passed under the end of the pier without doing much more than slapping at the underside of the boardwalk. Ralstin didn’t even get wet.
When the wake got closer to shore, it suddenly jacked up higher in the shallower water and smashed hard into the mid-section of the pier. That’s where Morris and angler Rick Molina of Aransas Pass were.
“All of a sudden, (the wake) grew about three feet. It slammed me down, and it threw a trashcan at me,” Molina said, referring to a trashcan that had been sitting on the pier.
Molina ended up with a bump on one leg, and Morris sustained a slight cut on one foot.
Around the middle of the pier, the swell crested two feet higher than the handrail, according to witnesses.
Ralstin said he was surprised by how fast the swell grew in only a few seconds.
“It didn’t look like anything that would do much until it was too late to do very much about it,” Ralstin said. “There wasn’t much you could do, except hold on.”
The wake was so big that hundreds of gallons of seawater were blasted into the pier parking lot and an adjacent dirt lot, leaving a muddy mess behind. The swell even ejected a live gaff top fish into the dirt lot.
It was the second time in recent memory that a high wake from a ship heavily damaged the pier. A similar incident occurred in January 2008. The city made a claim for the damage against the SKS Obo Holding Ltd., of Bergen, Norway, the owner of the tanker SKS Tiete.
The shipping company paid the city’s claim in the amount of $32,912, and the pier was repaired for about $37,000. The new construction elevated the portion of the pier closest to land to make it less susceptible to high wakes.
The city also erected signs warning people that wakes could be dangerous.
Parsons said the city has been in contact with the owner of the Mersey. The firm asked for a damage estimate but didn’t say whether it would pay anything, he said.
An unusually high tide is partly to blame for the big wake, Parsons said.
In 2008, the Coast Guard reported that the damage caused by that year’s incident was the result of high tides and deteriorated building materials, not from excessive speed from a passing ship.
Mayor Pro Tem Keith McMullin said his heart sank when he heard about the latest damage to the pier.
“I was hoping the new design, with the elevated section, would avoid that (damage from wakes),” McMullin said.
McMullin said he will push for the city to get the pier fixed as soon as possible.
The city not only should be looking to fix the old pier but also to eventually build a concrete pier, which would be stronger, at Charlie’s Pasture, McMullin said. The town’s next city manager ought to seek out grant money for such a project, McMullin said.
The Port Aransas City Council is scheduled to meet in closed session today, Thursday, April 22, to discuss possibly picking a top candidate for city manager and extending a contract to him.
STAFF PHOTO BY DAN PARKER