The captain of an offshore supply vessel has had his merchant mariner’s license suspended for a year after he failed to report a collision with a tanker at Galveston, Texas. The Coast Guard said the captain was underway in pea-soup fog even though he knew his radar was faulty.
The investigation followed a Jan. 5 collision between the 114-foot Capt. Nick and the 440-foot tanker Panam Caribe in the Galveston Fairway Anchorage.
After the accident, which occurred at 1916, Capt. Nick ignored protocol and proceeded out into the Gulf of Mexico on its scheduled run from Galveston to Morgan City, La., the Coast Guard said.
Seven hours after the collision, the crew of the smaller boat reported that a deck hand was injured, possibly experiencing internal bleeding. The medical emergency required a Coast Guard rescue boat to navigate out into the Gulf of Mexico through the dangerous fog to reach the man.
The rescue boat’s coxswain, Boatswain Mate 2nd Class Jennifer Taylor, said the fog that night was the worst her crew had ever seen. Their 41-foot utility boat from the Sabine Pass station traveled at only 6 to 8 knots during the mission in the early hours of Jan. 6.
“The hair on the back of your neck stands up,” Taylor said. “When we got out past the jetty, the visibility kind of swallowed us up. We had about 20-yard visibility. It was pretty bad.”
The crew of the Bahamian-flagged Panam Caribe did notify the Coast Guard of the collision in the anchorage area, but no one on the ship saw exactly what they had struck, said Houston-based Coast Guard public affairs specialist Adam Eggers.
“The tanker reported the collision, but because it was so foggy out, they didn’t have any idea what the other vessel was,” Eggers said. “When the Capt. Nick requested the medevac, we had a pretty good idea that was the other party.”
After proceeding out into the Gulf, the three-man crew of Capt. Nick soon found conditions to be too hazardous and tied up alongside an oil platform to wait for better visibility. The 47-year-old injured deck hand was complaining of intense pain and a possible internal injury from the collision.
The Capt. Nick crew requested the medevac at 0230. The Coast Guardsmen at Sabine Pass prepared their boat and were underway at 0357. It took them 1 hour, 50 minutes to navigate the 12 nautical miles and reach Capt. Nick. Conditions were 3-foot seas, with wind at 10 to 15 knots and almost no visibility.
“We had lookouts looking forward, aft and to the port and starboard sides,” Taylor said. “When we got right on them, we heard their fog whistle first, so we got on the radio and called out to them and they put their deck lights on for us.”
The rescue boat pulled alongside the offshore vessel, and two Coast Guardsmen boarded Capt. Nick. First they determined that the patient could walk. Then they assisted him onto the rescue boat, which arrived back at Sabine Pass station at 0812.
The deck hand was taken to the Medical Center of Southeast Texas, where he was treated for cracked ribs.
Coast Guard investigators from Port Arthur and Galveston boarded the vessels involved in the collision. Their probe revealed that Capt. Nick‘s radar wasn’t functioning properly and that the captain knew it.
The Coast Guard didn’t release details on the owners or operators of either vessel. The tanker wasn’t significantly damaged. Details of the damage to Capt. Nick weren’t available. The Coast Guard estimated a total of $25,000 damage to both vessels.
Capt. Nick was ordered to have its radar fixed to “perfect working order” and then transit to Hudson Dry Dock in Morgan City for other repairs, which were completed two weeks later.
The Coast Guard charged the captain of Capt. Nick with negligence and two counts each of misconduct and violating regulations. He and the Coast Guard settled on a 12-month outright suspension of his license and 12 months probation.
Taylor said her rescue boat’s recently installed chartplotter, GPS and radar were critical in navigating safely through that fog.
“Without them, I don’t think we could have made it out there,” she said.