Crew rescued after ferry loses propulsion, drifts off Newfoundland

Norcon Galatea

The Canadian Coast Guard rescued five crewmembers from a disabled ferry drifting off Newfoundland’s southern coast after the vessel possibly ran out of fuel.

The 141-foot ro-ro ferry Norcon Galatea was sailing from Clarenville, Newfoundland, to Bay L’Argent on Feb. 26 when it lost propulsion at about 1530 in Fortune Bay. A sister vessel tried to load additional fuel and also attempted to tow the ferry into calmer waters, but the towing arrangement failed, according to Robert Grant, a senior response officer with the Canadian Coast Guard’s Environmental Response program.

A CH-149 Cormorant helicopter rescued the crew later that night at the captain’s request.

It’s not clear if the ferry ran out of fuel or whether a problem arose in its fuel system.

“The owners believe there was a little more fuel there, and there may have been a fuel issue or an issue with the readings,” Grant said, adding that Transport Canada is trying to determine the cause.

“We went on the assumption the vessel ran out of fuel and … had the weather been cooperative and had they been able to do the fuel transfer, she would have been able to go on her way, but that wasn’t the case,” he added.

Norcon Marine of Glovertown, Newfoundland, owns Norcon Galatea, which was scheduled to begin a ferry charter with the provincial government a few days after the incident. Multiple attempts to reach the company were not successful, and email messages were not returned.

After the ship lost propulsion, crew dropped anchor while Norcon Triton came alongside and attempted to load more fuel. The transfer was unsuccessful due to unfavorable weather and sea conditions, Grant said.

With its propulsion system down, Norcon Galatea could not raise its anchor. Even so, Norcon Triton attempted to tow it into calmer waters to conduct the fuel transfer. The towline was released when the anchor “fetched up” early in the attempt and Norcon Galatea began drifting to the north in Fortune Bay.

“The Norcon Triton wasn’t designed to be a tow vessel, so when they released they lost the towline and the Norcon Galatea ended up coming to another anchored position 1 nm off Brunette Island,” Grant said, noting there was no pollution as a result of the incident.

Norcon Galatea’s commanding officer requested the Canadian Coast Guard rescue his crew before nightfall as the weather deteriorated. CCG’s Joint Rescue Coordination Center Halifax dispatched a search-and-rescue helicopter from Gander to rescue the crew and carry them to Fortune. There were no injuries.

Norcon Galatea’s anchor came loose again at about 0400 on Feb. 27 amid 35- to 45-knot winds and 10- to 13-foot seas. The stricken ferry drifted east in Fortune Bay until its anchor caught roughly 4 nm off the Burin Peninsula near the town of Garnish. The Canadian Coast Guard monitored the vessel’s movements by aircraft.

Norcon Marine hired Atlantic Towing of Saint John, New Brunswick, for the rescue towing job. The company’s 4,000-hp tractor tug Atlantic Larch reached the ferry at about 0200 on Feb. 28 and stood by until the next morning when weather conditions improved. Atlantic Larch crewmembers established the towline early on March 1 and pulled the ferry about 20 nm to Harbour Breton, Newfoundland. The vessels arrived that afternoon.

“The skill and experience of this team enabled them to safely and successfully deliver the Galatea to Harbour Breton,” Gilles Gagnon, vice president of Atlantic Towing, said in a statement. “It’s a tribute to the crew who performed a difficult job in heavy weather.”

The ferry remained in Harbour Breton pending an inspection and possible repairs.

By Professional Mariner Staff