Boston pilot boat rescues crew from cold water after tugboat sinks


Capt. Joseph Maloney of the Boston Harbor Pilots was idling near Logan Airport’s east runway when an emergency call came over the radio. 

Water was rushing into Emily Anne, a 55-foot pushboat carrying three people. It was not yet dawn on a cold February morning, and Maloney heard rising concern in the voice of the tug captain, whom he recognized as his friend, Doug Richmond. 

The distressed vessel was about a half-mile away, east of Deer Island. Maloney and his co-pilot, Capt. Shawn Kelly, sped toward it in the pilot boat Chelsea. They arrived a few minutes later to find two crewmen in the water and a third in a life raft. 

Maloney hoisted the first man onto the rescue well of Chelsea then lifted the second man to safety. Finally, Maloney guided Richmond to the ladder and helped him climb on board.

“You couldn’t have done it better in a movie,” Maloney recalled in a recent interview. “It went so good.”

“We used our strong points,” Kelly added. “Joe was going to yank those people out, and there was no way I was going to do it, but I was going to maneuver that boat around anything.”

Nobody was hurt, but Maloney believes the outcome could have been much worse. “They were only in the water a couple minutes, but they were … disoriented,” he said.

About six weeks after the incident, the Coast Guard awarded Maloney and Kelly Certificates of Merit for their role in the rescue. 

The Coast Guard is investigating the sinking, which was reported at 0602 on Feb. 16. Petty Officer Cynthia Oldham said the cause of the hull breach has not been determined and likely won’t be until some time after the vessel is salvaged. 

“It’s still underwater,” she said in mid-March. “They still have to get the vessel up from the bottom of the harbor.”

The twin-screw, 800-hp Emily Anne was traveling from Beverly, Mass., to Quincy, just south of Boston, when the trouble started. The weather was clear with 3- to 5-foot seas. Richmond reported over radio that the breach was located in the “portside forward engine room.” 

The tug was not pushing any barges at the time, according to Kevin Pelletier of North Shore Marine, which owns the vessel. When asked about the nature of the breach, he answered: “Nobody knows.”

“Divers went down to look and they couldn’t find anything,” he added.

On the morning of the incident, Maloney and Kelly had just met several ships and were enjoying some downtime in Chelsea before their next pickup. The vessel was sitting at anchorage on the north side of Boston Harbor. 

“Tug Emily Anne: We’ve got a hull casualty just north of the NC Buoy No. 2. Requesting assistance at this time,” Richmond said over the radio, referring to the North Channel into Boston Harbor. 

The Coast Guard watch stander confirmed the location of the vessel and the number of people on board. She requested that other ships in the area keep watch for the sinking tug and dispatched a rescue vessel from Coast Guard Station Port Allerton. 

Capt. Scott MacNeil, a pilot aboard the inbound bulker Captain Yannis L., called to Richmond over radio about two minutes after the initial emergency call. He said the pilot boat was on its way. 

“Roger, thank you Scott, tell ‘em to bring it on,” Richmond said. Moments later, Maloney contacted Emily Anne over radio and confirmed they were coming to help. 

“Bring it on, Joe,” Richmond said over radio after learning the pilots were on their way. 

“Yeah, I got it hooked up. Be out there as soon as I can, Doug,” Maloney answered. 

The Coast Guard then asked whether the Emily Anne crew had survival equipment. The water temperature was roughly 37 degrees that morning and the air temperature was below freezing. 

“Roger, got it on,” Richmond responded. “Getting ready to do something here.”

At this point, the Coast Guard formally asked Chelsea to respond to Emily Anne. Maloney said they were about a mile from the tug and speeding toward the No. 2 buoy at about 22 knots.

Chelsea arrived about 30 seconds later. By then the tug had disappeared from the horizon and its crew had already entered the water.  

“When we got on scene, there was a huge debris field,” Maloney recalled. “Me and Shawn went into rescue mode.” Their boat, built by Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding, has a rescue well on the stern from which a ladder extends into the water. Kelly moved to a stern steering station and backed Chelsea through the debris field to reach the crew. 

“The captain of the tug had a kid on his back. One kid was in a life raft, but the raft was blowing away,” Maloney said. “Doug gave me the kid on his back first. I didn’t even feel his weight with all the adrenaline.”

Maloney and Richmond coaxed the second crewman to leave the raft and jump into the water. He made his way to the pilot boat and Maloney helped pull him on board. Richmond was the last man to reach safety. 

“We would have done it for anybody, but it was different because we knew them,” Kelly said. “That put a little extra oomph into it.”

With Emily Anne’s crew safely on board, Chelsea sped back to the Boston Pilots’ headquarters in East Boston. The crew changed into dry clothes and called loved ones as the vessel headed toward shore.

Kelly said the seriousness of the situation didn’t set in until well after the rescue.

“It didn’t hit me until about 8 that night,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘They are home watching TV. That’s pretty cool,’ because they weren’t going to make it.”

By Professional Mariner Staff