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Disruption on Container Ship Tests Port Safety in Charleston | News

Getting older MSC Michigan VII sailed into Charleston Harbor at 5:44 PM on June 4, arriving from Norfolk, Virginia, probably with little attention. Just another ship in a countless convoy headed to a SC State Ports Authority dock before being offloaded and retreating to sea.

However, when it set sail the next day, a propulsion problem aboard the 300-metre-long ship attracted widespread attention – both on land and from the water. Due to the malfunction, the accelerator pedal remained at full speed. The U.S. Coast Guard and local authorities evacuated the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and the river below as the massive ship passed through the channel.

Port pilot relied on decades of experience to bring defective container ship to safety

An investigation continues. Online inspection and maintenance records show that the ship has been flagged twice this year – in two different countries – due to various problems.

The Coast Guard noticed a problem with the steering alarm in February when the Michigan was in Boston. A month later, Polish inspectors found seven deficiencies – including two with the propulsion and auxiliary machinery, according to an online European port register.

On June 5, crews at the North Charleston Terminal unloaded 378 containers before the Michigan would proceed to Savannah to unload more cargo.

The ship was scheduled to depart Charleston at 11:30 am. It took off about 15 minutes late and quickly ran into trouble, requiring a deft hand to avoid a potential catastrophe.

The harbor pilot, an experienced navigator, made 16 turns: five left turns, two right turns, two left turns, a right turn, three left turns, two right turns and finally a left turn.

The harrowing journey lasted 86 minutes.

Here is a minute-by-minute account of what happened, as drawn from information provided by the Coast Guard, the Charleston Branch Pilots Association, police and other reporting by The Post and Courier.

Image: Container ship loses control and docks safely at the peninsula terminal

CONTAINER SHIP LOSS CONTROL AND ARRIVES SAFELY AT PENINSULA TERMINAL: After losing control of the engine at approximately 12:15 a.m. on June 5, the MSC Michigan VII increased its speed after multiple law enforcement officers were alerted, and the bridge was cleared one minute before the container ship cleared the Ravenel Bridge. Two recreational boaters were injured after the ship passed Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina. Tugboats brought the ship to the Columbus Street terminal around midnight the next morning after it anchored offshore in the Atlantic Ocean. (Source: VesselFinder)


* = approximation

11:46 am

With a local harbor pilot on board, the Michigan departs from the North Charleston Terminal using two tugboats. The route heads north briefly before turning around and heading down the Cooper River.

12:04 pm

The pilot commands the engines to go “deep slow forward,” which is about 7 knots.

Instead, near the Filbin Creek Reach just before the Don Holt Bridge, the ship increases speed to about 10 knots after the propulsion system stalls at full throttle.

Charleston Harbor is a busy commercial port.  What happens if a ship gets into trouble?

12:15 pm*

The Michigans The speed was still “not fully increased” as he passed under the bridge, which carries Interstate 526 over the river. The speed at this point is approximately 13 knots or 15 mph.

The port pilot and the ship’s captain decide to continue the course.

12:17 pm

Watchstanders at the Coast Guard Sector Charleston command center receive a message from Charleston harbor pilots regarding a malfunction on the Michigan and its increasing speed.

12:18 pm

Multiple law enforcement agencies, including those in Charleston and Mount Pleasant, have been notified. Coordinated plans begin to stop traffic across the Ravenel.


The Michigan continues south, passing Noisette Creek and Riverfront Park and approaching a speed of 15 knots.

12:23 pm

The ship passes the docks of Detyens Shipyards, a commercial repair shop on the old naval base. It begins to turn slightly to the left at a bend in the river as it approaches the mouth of Clouster Creek on Daniel Island.

12:26 pm

Before the Michigan As it passes the western edge of Daniel Island, a Coast Guard cutter positions itself ahead of the ship’s path further up the Cooper River.

12:30 pm*

Ravenel Bridge temporarily closed after cargo ship loses control.  Here's what we know.

Charleston and Mount Pleasant police are working to clear the Ravenel Bridge, blocking lanes and using vehicles to clear pedestrians and cyclists from the bridge.


The Michigan passes to the left of Drum Island at a speed of approximately 14 knots.

12:41 pm

Police from both sides clear the Ravenel Bridge of all vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. The Michigan continues to spin the wake ahead of its bow as it clings to the center of the channel. A final few cars leave the exit as the ship pushes under the bridge.

12:42 pm

Can the Ravenel Bridge handle more traffic?

The Michigan frees the Ravenel and continues its path through the harbor.

12:45 pm*

The ship’s speed increases to 15 knots, or more than 17 mph, as it turns left near Yorktown and Patriots Point on Mount Pleasant.

12:46 pm

The ship around Patriots Point and the Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina, which is damaged by the significant wake.

Can the Ravenel Bridge withstand a collision like the one in Baltimore?

12:48 pm

The Michigan pushes left and left again to stay in the channel as it passes Fort Sumter on the starboard side.

MSC Michigan VII.JPG (copy)

MSC Michigan VII, the container ship that inexplicably accelerated in the Port of Charleston, is docked at the Columbus Street Terminal, June 6, 2024.

12:49 pm

The Coast Guard is receiving a report of two recreational boaters around Daniel Island injured by a ship-generated wake. The boaters are taken to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

1:12 p.m

The ship clears docks at the mouth of Charleston Harbor. The speed has increased to almost 18 knots, more than 32 km/h. The crew turns off the engines and drifts out into the open ocean, before finally dropping anchor.

1:55 p.m

The harbor pilot steps out Michigan and heads back to shore.

Tugboats pull out around midnight MSC Michigan XII back to Charleston. It is moored at Columbus Street Terminal while the investigation continues.

Kailey Cota, James Paul And Sandra Hodson contributed to this report.

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