Falling crane boom from museum vessel sinks towboat

A towboat sank at a pier in the Port of Galveston, Texas, after being struck by a crane boom that fell from a museum-piece semisubmersible drilling rig.

Jerry Picton went down in 40 feet of water alongside the Offshore Energy Center’s Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum at about 1545 Aug. 19. The towing vessel and crane were involved in a maintenance project on the rig.

“A crane boom from the Ocean Star failed while moving a skid pan to the towing vessel, apparently causing the boom to fall onto the towing vessel, sinking the towboat,†said Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Renee C. Aiello.

The crane was a permanent part of the Ocean Star Museum. The museum is a retired semisubmersible drilling rig located on Galveston Island that is a major tourist attraction for the Galveston area.

This accident is another of the hundreds of incidents that developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. When the hurricane came ashore in September 2008, it substantially damaged the museum. The rig and museum were closed for four months, and previously planned rig renovations were accelerated, said Lisa Lisinicchia, operations director for the Ocean Star Museum.

T&T Bisso Response, of Houston, had equipment in the area and responded for the salvage effort.

“We were on the scene almost immediately,†said David Plesa of T&T Bisso Response. “We deployed about 500 feet of containment boom around the sunken vessel since it contained about 1,800 gallons of diesel fuel.â€

The 40-foot towboat was raised by T&T Bisso Response and towed across the channel to Gulf Copper Manufacturing Corp., which owns the vessel. Gulf Copper has a dry dock and rig repair facility at this location and will repair the towboat.

“At the time of the accident, the Ocean Star Museum had been undergoing maintenance work by Gulf Copper and others for about two weeks,†Lisinicchia said. “Gulf Copper was preparing the exterior of the rig for sand-blasting and painting.â€

Aiello said there were no injuries. A light sheen had developed on the water in the area where the vessel sank. “Divers secured the fuel vents to keep fuel leakage to a minimum,†she said.

‘There has been minimum environmental impact, and the Coast Guard monitored the situation until salvage operations were complete,†said Coast Guard Galveston Safety Unit Commander Jim Elliott.

The Coast Guard is investigating.

Larry Pearson

By Professional Mariner Staff