Chief mate of MSC prepositioning ship lost after going overboard near Guam

The civilian chief mate of a U.S. Military Sealift Command ship fell overboard in rough weather near Guam and was lost at sea.

The unidentified employee of Waterman Steamship Corp. was serving aboard the Maritime Prepositioning Force vessel USNS Maj Stephen W. Pless when the mariner plunged into the Philippine Sea on Feb. 27, the Navy said in a statement.

"A merchant mariner assigned on board the ship fell overboard from the bridge wing of the ship into the water," the Navy said.

Pless is an 821-foot container and roll-on/roll-off vessel. It was 25 nm northwest of Guam when the accident happened at about 1820. Winds gusted to 35 knots and seas were 10 to 12 feet, said U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Lt. j.g. Wade Thomson.

The victim was spotted in the waves, but the weather made a rescue response difficult.

"The ship's crew had reported seeing a person going overboard and immediately released life rings and orange smoke signals at the location, but they were not able to dispatch the ship's lifeboat because of high winds," Thomson said.

A MH-60 Sea Knight helicopter from the Navy's Sea Combat Squadron 25 was the primary search-and-rescue asset, Thomson said. The Coast Guard cutter Washington also responded.

The Navy helicopter crew was able to see the body at least twice on Feb. 27 and 28, but conditions were too unsafe to attempt to retrieve it. The response continued until the afternoon of Feb. 28.

"Regrettably, the body has not been found or recovered," Military Sealift Command spokesman Edward Baxter said in March. "At the time of the incident, weather conditions were very, very bad, with high winds and heavy seas, which made recovery operations at the time impossible."

Baxter said the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and Military Sealift Command were investigating the incident and planned to issue a report. Thomson said the Coast Guard was conducting a maritime casualty investigation.

The crew of Pless consists of 26 civilian mariners who are employees of contractor Waterman Steamship, a Mobile, Ala.-based subsidiary of International Shipholding Corp. Waterman Steamship officials declined to comment on the incident or the mariner involved.

Neither the Navy, Military Sealift Command nor the Coast Guard would identify the mariner who was lost and would not give a reason why the information was not made public.

By Professional Mariner Staff