Crewman lost at sea after falling into Gulf while painting hull without wearing life vest

A crewman painting the side of a bulk carrier was never found after he fell into the Gulf of Mexico without a life jacket. Investigators said lines to his bosun’s chair failed.
The accident happened alongside CF Crystal near the Texas coast on Dec. 13. The 29-year-old man was a crewmember on the Chinese-flagged 738-foot bulk carrier, owned by Changhong Group HK Ltd. in Shanghai.

The official cause of the accident is under U.S. Coast Guard investigation, said spokesman Dustin Williams in Houston. Various factors appear to have contributed to the incident’s severity.

“Failure of one of the lines holding the bosun chair the crewmember was using while painting line markers on the hull’s starboard side resulted in his fall,” Williams said. A bosun or boatswain’s chair is a short board suspended by ropes and used as a seat while working. 

“He was reported as not wearing a life jacket or any other protective equipment,” Williams said. “In addition, the ship’s rescue boat had an engine malfunction, preventing it from being used.”

The man’s plunge from the 41,100-gross-ton vessel occurred about 10 miles from the Sabine Pass anchorage. The Coast Guard still had not released the Chinese man’s name as of February, because his family had yet to be notified. 

“They live in a very remote village in China, and it’s difficult for FedEx to deliver there,” Williams said.

The crew of CF Crystal contacted Coast Guard Sector Houston/Galveston about the fall at around 0900 hours. “They had thrown the man a life ring but couldn’t get it to him,” Williams said. “They saw him submerge shortly afterward.” 

Rescue crew from Coast Guard Station Sabine Pass arrived on the scene in a 45-foot vessel within 30 minutes and began searching. An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew joined them from Air Station Houston. The Coast Guard was the sole responding agency. Personnel on the Liberian-flagged Corrido, a 600-foot oil and chemical tanker owned by Laurin Maritime America in Houston, lowered a lifeboat and found the man’s hardhat. Operators of CF Crystal hired divers to look. “The search for the missing crewman was suspended on Dec. 14, however, after negative results,” Williams said.

Changhong Group didn’t respond to requests for information. CF Crystal was built in 2011 by Chengxi Shipyard Company Ltd. in China.

Skies were mostly clear on the southeast Texas coast, with spotty showers offshore, when the crewman fell. Weather was not a factor in the accident, Williams said.

By Professional Mariner Staff