Faulty repair, crew error blamed for sinking of OSV under tow along coast of Louisiana

The crew of an offshore supply vessel working near the Louisiana coast awoke the off-duty master on a spring night with some urgent news: The boat was taking on water.

Crew aboard the 110-foot Ricky B shut down the 450-hp starboard engine and tied off at a nearby platform for field repairs, according to a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report. The temporary fix slowed the leak, but didn’t stop it.

A day later, as the three crewmembers traveled toward home port in Dulac, La., the vessel’s dewatering systems became overwhelmed and the crew abandoned ship. It sank the following day while in tow to shore.

NTSB investigators determined the crew’s actions after the leak was discovered — including a faulty repair — contributed to the accident.

“The probable cause of the sinking of the offshore supply vessel Ricky B was the crew’s failure to adequately assess the severity of the flooding rate through the starboard shaft seal gland and take prudent action to mitigate the situation,” the agency said in its report.

One of Ricky B’s crew tested positive for cocaine use following the incident.  

Crew identified the leak at about 2100 on May 28, 2013, when the vessel’s high bilge alarm sounded. The mate noticed the starboard shaft seal packing was leaking and he woke the off-duty master to discuss the situation. A decision was made to tie off at a nearby platform for repairs.

“The crew managed to tighten the four nuts that secured the packing gland faceplate to the through-hull penetration, and this action slowed the ingress of water to a rate that was reportedly within the capacity of the vessel’s bilge pump,” the report said.

With the leak seemingly under control, the crew continued on May 29 to its next scheduled stop at a platform 16 nm north and then toward its home port in Dulac. During this time, the vessel used only its port engine for propulsion, and crew were monitoring the flooding, the report said.

“About 1045, the mate relieved the master of the watch, and sometime later, for unknown reasons, decided to engage the starboard engine at clutch speed,” investigators determined.

Nearly 45 minutes later, the mate noticed the vessel’s bilge pump was no longer keeping up with the leak.

“He then aligned the appropriate piping in the ballast manifold and started the ballast pump to assist the bilge pump with dewatering the engine room. However, this action was unsuccessful, and about 1230, the ballast pump ceased to operate due to the rising water level in the engine room,” the report said.

Soon afterward, the crew radioed for help. As the water continued rising, both engines were shut off. The bilge pump stayed on until it failed, the report said.

Miss Monica, which was operating nearby, responded to Ricky B. Miss Monica’s crew offered use of its compressed air dewatering pump. A gas-powered dewatering pump dropped by a U.S. Coast Guard plane was rendered inoperable after its waterproof case failed.

At about 1400 on May 29, crew sealed   Ricky B  ’s engine room, dropped anchor, activated  the EPIRB beacon and abandoned the vessel.  Miss Monica  took Ricky B’s crewmembers to a manned plat  form. 

The stricken craft was partially submerged when the towing vessel Delta Force arrived at about 0215 on May 30.

“The crew of the  Delta Force  began towing the Ricky B toward shore. However, at 0 702, the Ricky B completely submerged and sank in about 50 feet of water, some 24 nm south of Marsh Island,” the report said.

A salvage team raised and dewatered the vessel on June 17. A salvage official realized the initial field repair was done poorly, which explained why the vessel was overcome with water so quickly.

“The salvage supervisor discovered that three of the four nuts that secured the packing gland faceplate to the shaft sealing system were loose, and the plate was offset 3 to 4 inches, allowing water to flow freely into the vessel,” investigators said.

The condition of the repaired shaft seal after the vessel was raised and dewatered did not match up with the crewmembers description of the field repair, the report said.

A urine test conducted after the incident showed the mate tested positive for cocaine. Investigators weren’t sure if the drug use contributed to his decision to engage the starboard engine after it had been shut down.

At the time, Ricky B was owned by D&B Boat Rentals of New Iberia, La. A message left for the company president was not returned.

By Professional Mariner Staff