Coast Guard medevacs three mariners from ship hit by rogue wave

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter approaches the chemical tanker Bum Chin off the Aleutian Islands before airlifting three members of the ship’s crew who were injured by a rogue wave. The men were later transferred to a fixed-wing aircraft, which took them to Anchorage, Alaska, where they received hospital treatment. The combined medevac operation covered more than 1,800 miles. (Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

Three crewmen were seriously injured when a rogue wave battered a chemical tanker off Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. U.S. Coast Guard pilots flew more than 1,800 miles to rescue and deliver them to an Anchorage hospital.

The 478-foot Bum Chin was already struggling through 45-knot gusts and 25-foot waves when an even larger wave pounded the main deck, the master reported. The Coast Guard said the Chinese-flagged ship was 750 nautical miles from Adak Island when the injuries occurred Dec. 27, 2008.

“The vessel took a rogue wave that swept the three crewmembers from the decks into the superstructure and railing,” the Coast Guard said in a statement. “The chief officer sustained head injuries, an able seaman sustained a compound fracture of his left leg (and) wounds to his forehead and left hand, and the fifth engineer sustained injuries to his left leg, lower back and his left chest.”

Bum Chin’s operator, Fleet Management Ltd., declined to comment on the size of the rogue wave. Because the ship’s main deck is 43 feet high, the wave likely was at least that high.

Bum Chin was sailing from Ulsan, South Korea, to San Francisco when it encountered the rough seas. The Coast Guard in Honolulu initially took the distress call from Bum Chin’s master at 1615 Dec. 27. The case was forwarded to Alaska-based rescuers.

The Coast Guard in Kodiak deployed an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and HC-130 Hercules airplane on the morning of Dec. 28. After fueling and crew-change breaks in Cold Bay and Dutch Harbor, the aircraft reached Adak Island, the final refueling stop. The Coast Guard had instructed Bum Chin to sail north toward Adak Island, said Paul Webb, a search and rescue specialist at Juneau. Rescue coordinators had hoped that the ship would come to within 80 miles of Adak to rendezvous with the aircraft. Instead, it was still 192 miles offshore when the helicopter arrived at 1158 on Dec. 29.

Lt. Cmdr. Scott Jackson, one of the pilots, said the round-trip flight in the 55-mph sustained winds came close to maxing out the helicopter’s fuel supply.

“Due to the sea state and weather conditions, the ship did not close the distance, so we ended up making the rescue almost 200 miles off Adak,” Jackson said. “The ship was fighting through the waves. It was rolling, leaning, doing it all, moving significantly. They were taking waves over their port bow but not midships.” The rescuers asked Bum Chin to heave to, pointing the bow into the 25-foot seas to reduce the difficulty of lowering the hoist and rescue swimmer.

“That kind of took the roll dynamic out of it,” Jackson said. The 45-foot wind gusts “made it much more difficult for the hoist and to maneuver the aircraft to keep it safe from the superstructure, because the heavy seas were moving the vessel around like it was matchwood.”
Worried about their fuel supply, the five-person helicopter crew wasted little time in lowering the rescue swimmer, who asked the ship’s crew to grasp onto a trail line to prevent the hoist from blowing around, Jackson said. One at a time, they lifted each injured man. The able seaman was able to sit in the basket for the ascent. The chief officer and fifth engineer needed to be lifted in the litter. After the rescue swimmer returned to the chopper, it flew back to Adak. The patients were transferred to the HC-130 plane, which flew them to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, where at 2015 an ambulance took the injured men to a hospital.

All three men recovered from their injuries. Webb said Bum Chin was the Coast Guard’s fourth long-distance medevac in the Aleutians during the first three months of the fiscal year that runs October to September — the same total for the entire previous fiscal year.

By Professional Mariner Staff