Large wave pummels deck of MSC ship, injuring four civilian mariners

Four civilian mariners were injured when a wave struck them on the deck of a Navy fleet replenishment oiler during training in rough seas off the Virginia coast.

The accident happened aboard USNS Kanawha at around 1000 on Sept. 10, the U.S. Coast Guard said in a press release. Two of the four victims were seriously hurt.

“A large wave knocked them off their feet,” said Trish Larson, a Military Sealift Command spokeswoman. “The mariners were conducting replenishment training alongside USNS Big Horn when they were hurt.”

The 678-foot Kanawha belongs to the Military Sealift Fleet Support Command (MSFSC) and is crewed by civilian mariners. The vessel was getting ready to start routine sea qualification training and trials with the sister ship when the wave swept over the main deck, according to the MSFSC.

The training was taking place in the Atlantic Ocean about 65 miles east of Virginia Beach. The vessels were 180 feet apart or less. The training task was underway, but fuel hoses had not been connected yet when the surprise wave arrived, the MSFSC said.

Kanawha’s crew contacted the Coast Guard at Hampton Roads, “reporting that they had been struck by a rogue wave,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.

Kanawha’s freeboard is 14 feet, Larson said. The MSC offered no estimate for the size of the wave.

A nearby National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration buoy recorded a significant wave height — the average of the highest 33 percent of the waves — of 11.8 feet to 12.5 feet during that hour, the National Data Buoy Center said. The measurements matched the forecast of 12-foot significant wave heights for that morning. In such conditions, a few 20-foot waves would be common.

Three men and one woman were hurt and needed medical evacuation. One victim had a compound leg fracture, the MSFSC said. The others had serious bruises.

Two Coast Guard helicopters responded from Air Station Elizabeth City. One of the choppers flew the two most severely injured mariners to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, said Lt. Lance Leone, co-pilot of one of the helicopters. The other helicopter transported the two less seriously hurt victims to the Naval Medical Center at Portsmouth.

Kanawha and Big Horn are part of the Military Sealift Command’s Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force. The usual crew of each consists of 81 civil service mariners and 23 military personnel.

No one on Big Horn was injured, Larson said. Neither vessel was damaged. Both returned to their Virginia home port after the accident.

Kanawha’s official draft is 35 feet and its beam is 87.5 feet. Big Horn’s dimensions are identical to Kanawha’s.

The MSFSC declined to disclose whether any of the victims were ship’s officers, exactly where they were on the vessel, what jobs they were doing when the wave hit or whether they struck any objects when the wave washed them across the work deck. Further specifics about their injuries weren’t released.

Dom Yanchunas

By Professional Mariner Staff