Crew flees to barge from sinking tug

Four crewmembers abandoned their sinking tugboat for the safety of one of the barges they were towing in the Gulf of Mexico. The Coast Guard said a problem with a shaft seal may have caused the tug to take on water.

MV Ramrod, a 60-foot tug bound for Trinidad from New Orleans, was heading southeast in the gulf at 0500 on April 4 when the Coast Guard’s Sector Command Center in Mobile, Ala., was notified that the vessel was taking on water 90 miles off Destin, Fla.

The call to the Coast Guard came from the owner of Ramrod, Leroy Buras of Buras Marine LLC in Harvey, La. He had received a call from crewmembers that the tug was in trouble. When contacted by the Coast Guard, the crew radioed back that it was attempting to pump out the water.

“At 0516 it was reported that their pumps were keeping up with the incoming flow,†said Lt. j.g. Matthew Mitchell, acting public affairs officer for Coast Guard Sector Mobile. “At 0630 it was reported that the vessel was sinking.â€

By that time, Mitchell said, Ramrod’s captain had ordered the crew to abandon ship, and the four men boarded one of the two barges the tug was towing. Another tugboat, MV Freedom, was in the area and played a role in the rescue, according to Paul Zado, captain of the Coast Guard cutter Seahawk, which picked up the men.

“Freedom was relaying information between us and the crew of the Ramrod,†Zado told The Times of Apalachicola, Fla. “The crew had only a handheld radio on the barge and it was too weak to reach us.â€

A HU-25 Falcon jet crew dispatched from the Aviation Training Center in Mobile located Ramrod at 0645. Seahawk, on patrol from its home port of Carrabelle, arrived at the scene at 0741. All four crewmembers were recovered from the barge unhurt and were taken to St. Andrew’s Marina in Panama City, Fla.

Mitchell said investigators were uncertain why Ramrod began taking on water. Seas were running 3 feet at the time, with 10-knot winds. The water temperature was 70 degrees and visibility was 12 nautical miles.

“The specific cause is still unclear,†Mitchell said. “There is some speculation that it involved the liner on the shaft seal, but that was not confirmed. Because of the depth of the water no one intends to salvage the boat, so the exact cause may never be known.â€

The water in the area is between 800 and 1,000 feet deep, according to buoy data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Buras, the owner of Ramrod, could not be reached for comment on what caused the tug to take on water and sink.

MV Lucky Seven recovered the abandoned barges after the rescue, with assistance in that search provided by MV La Jean Pierre.

By Professional Mariner Staff