Coast Guard: Alaska Ranger lost two lifeboats while backing

The following is a safety alert issued by the U.S. Coast Guard:
Safety Alert 3-08
Controllable Pitch Propeller Systems
and Situational Awareness
A marine casualty in March of 2008 involving a fishing vessel in the Bering
Sea resulted in multiple fatalities and complete loss of the vessel.  A
Marine Board of Investigation is currently examining the various
circumstances surrounding the casualty.  Although the investigation is not
complete, safety issues associated with casualty have been identified that
merit immediate public dissemination.
Based on the survivors’ testimony, the crew experienced difficulty with
launching and entering the three liferafts because the vessel was making
considerable sternway when the order to abandon ship was issued.  Evidence
indicates the main engines were still running and the vessel was backing
with significant astern pitch.  Consequently, two of the liferafts quickly
traveled forward past the bow of the vessel when they were launched.
Attempts to retrieve the liferafts using the painter lines were
unsuccessful.  As a result, the majority of the crew members were forced to
jump into the 34°F water and attempt to swim to the liferafts.  Ultimately,
only 22 members of the vessel’s crew made it into the liferafts.  All of
these crew members survived.  Of the other 25 crew members who never made it
into a liferaft, four died and one remains missing.
The Coast Guard strongly recommends that owners, operators, and masters of
vessels with controllable pitch propellers understand the design and
operation of the system.  This includes the primary and emergency sources of
power for both the control and main systems, the location and procedures for
using alternate control stations, and the locations of the emergency
shutdowns.  While controllable pitch propeller systems are generally
designed and constructed to fail in the “as is” position, in hydraulic CPP
systems, the actual blade pitch may change. In this case the vessel was
making considerable sternway. This was not a unique occurrence. The MS
EXPLORER also experienced this problem before it sank in November of 2007.
Vessel operators, masters and crew members must be prepared to respond
In light of this incident, vessel owners, operators, masters and crew
members should also be mindful of the following safety issues:
1. Vessel masters and officers must maintain situational awareness at all
times and understand the effects of their actions and decisions on the
safety of their crew, especially during emergency situations involving
flooding.  This includes understanding what impact the vessel’s speed,
heading, heel, and trim will have on the crew as it abandons ship.
2. The master or individual in charge must evaluate the particular
circumstances of each emergency situation (weather, seas, experience of
crew, condition of vessel, etc.) and adjust emergency procedures accordingly
to provide for the safety of his crew, vessel, and the environment.
3. All crew members should understand that immersion suits will affect their
dexterity, limit mobility, and may make it more difficult to launch survival
craft, particularly when the survival craft are covered with snow or ice.
Crew members responsible for launching the survival craft should practice
and be able to do so with their immersion suits on.  Lifesaving gear should
be kept free of ice and snow whenever possible.
4. When abandoning ship, crewmembers should make every effort to enter
directly into a liferaft or lifeboat before entering the water.  If
crewmembers must enter the water, they should stay together and attempt to
enter a liferaft, climb onto floating debris, or use any other means
available to get themselves out of the water as soon as possible.
5. Emergency Drills should not be limited to routine procedures such as
donning immersion suits.  Emergency drills should ensure all crew members,
including bridge and engine room personnel, understand and practice what to
do in various emergency situations under actual conditions.
Additional information regarding emergency procedures for Commercial Fishing
Vessels can be found at: .
This safety alert is provided for informational purpose only and does not
relieve any domestic or international safety, operational or material
requirement.  Developed and distributed by the Office of Investigations and
Analysis, United States Coast Guard Headquarters, Washington, DC.
By Professional Mariner Staff