Maritime Casualty News, April 2014

Containership crewmember lost overboard off Hawaii

A male Japanese crewmember was reported overboard from the containership Hercules Highway, 805 miles northeast of Oahu, Hawaii. The U.S. Coast Guard was notified at about 0823, April 14, that the 23-year-old crewmember was missing. He was last seen at 1900 the night before.

The 589-foot containership changed course to search for the crewmember, with assistance from an HC-130 Hercules airplane and Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue System (Amver) vessels St. Andrews, Anne Gret and UACC Masafi. Weather conditions consisted of 28-mph winds, 12-foot seas and 69° water temperature.

The search was suspended April 16. The Coast Guard reported that approximately 2,255 square miles were searched.

Hercules Highway is a car carrier owned by Taiyo Nippon Kisen Ltd., of Kobe, Japan.


Coast Guard releases report on Alaska grounding

On April 3, the U.S. Coast Guard released a 152-page investigation report on the grounding of the mobile offshore drilling unit Kulluk.

On Dec. 21, 2012, Kulluk departed Captains Bay, Alaska, under tow by Aiviq, for a voyage to the Seattle area. During a Gulf of Alaska storm, Kulluk broke free and numerous attempts to get it securely back under tow by Aiviq and other rescue vessels, including a Coast Guard cutter, failed. Kulluk grounded Dec. 31 near Kodiak Island and Aiviq temporarily lost all four of its main engines.

According to the report, Shell Offshore Inc.'s tow plan was inadequate, poorly vetted and misidentified a critical piece of equipment: a huge shackle used to connect tow gear.

Kulluk's towline was stressed by extreme fluctuations in tension. According to the report, an alarm set to go off at 50 percent the strength setting of the tow equipment went off 38 times, but the third mate mistakenly thought it was a different, faulty alarm.

A 20-page analysis by the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Center details the cause of Aiviq's engine failures as too much saltwater entering the fuel tanks. Tests of the diesel fuel in one tank found 10 times the maximum amount of water specified by Caterpillar, the engine manufacturer.

"The Aiviq chief engineer may have committed an act of negligence by not adhering to good marine engineering practices with regard to onboard fuel management practices," the report said.

As a result of the investigation, eight safety recommendations were issued. The Coast Guard called for any marine company intending to work in Arctic regions to re-evaluate its operating procedures. The report recommends that Coast Guard District 17 evaluate the existing towing equipment aboard its cutter and icebreaker fleet to determine its existing towing practices and equipment capabilities.


Galveston Bay collision results in oil spill

A collision involving a cargo ship and a tug/barge in the Houston Ship Channel resulted in a 168,000-gallon oil spill. The March 22 incident occurred at about 1235. The vessels collided near the Texas City Dike, in an intersection known as the “Texas City Y.”

The Liberian-flagged cargo ship Summer Wind was en route to the Port of Houston when it collided with a 300-foot barge being towed by the 78-foot Miss Susan. The tug, owned by Kirby Inland Marine, was transiting from Texas City to Bolivar, Texas, with two barges in tow. The 585-foot Summer Wind is owned by Sea Galaxy Marine SA, and operated by Cleopatra Shipping Agency Ltd.

Weather conditions at the time of the collision were foggy. Communication between the vessels did not occur until five minutes before impact, when the cargo ship was three-quarters of a mile away from Miss Susan. When Summer Wind struck the barge, a cargo tank was breached, spilling 168,000 gallons of marine fuel oil into Galveston Bay.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, response crews laid more than 69,000 feet of containment boom around the spill, including barriers to protect Big Reef at the end of Galveston Island and Little Pelican Island.

A safety zone from lighted buoy 40 to lighted buoy 3 was established to ensure the well-being of response workers and prevent the further spread of oil. The safety zone restricted the transit of vessels not involved in the response from entering the area. Coast Guard officials did allow two cruise ships to travel through the area by late afternoon to minimize inconvenience to the thousands of passengers aboard and limit economic impacts from the spill.

The Port of Houston/Galveston reopened the bay to all traffic March 27 after multiple cleanup assessments and input from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The accident investigation is led by the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Unit in Texas City and assisted by the National Transportation Safety Board. The Unified Command consists of a wide variety of federal, state and local government agencies, non-profit organizations and Kirby Inland Marine.

On April 6, the Unified Command reported that an estimated total of 219,025 pounds of oiled materials has been collected from impacted shoreline. While oil recovery work on the water has been suspended, reconnaissance continues further south all the way to Brownsville, Texas.  More than 225 miles of Texas coastline is being monitored for any potential impact.

Kirby Inland Marine filed a lawsuit in April against Summer Wind's owner and operator. U.S. marshals have seized Summer Wind, which has been docked at the Port of Houston.


Casualty flashback: April 1947

A cargo ship caught fire and exploded on April 16, 1947; an event that has since been known as the Texas City Disaster.

The 437-foot cargo ship SS Grandcamp was loaded with ammonium nitrate and docked in Texas City, Texas. At about 0800, crewmen noticed a fire had started in the cargo hold and were unsuccessful in extinguishing it.

The ship’s captain ordered his crew to force steam into the cargo holds, a method used to put out fires while attempting to preserve the cargo. The steam likely liquefied the ammonium nitrate to produce nitrous oxide. Ammonium nitrate can also produce the oxygen necessary to feed a fire, preventing the steam from extinguishing the fire.

Grandcamp exploded at 0912. The blast caused flooding and destruction throughout the port, leveling about 1,000 nearby buildings. SS High Flyer, in dock for repairs and also carrying ammonium nitrate, was ignited by the first explosion. To prevent any more damage to the shore, the vessel was towed 100 feet from the docks before it exploded at 0110 on April 17.

The cause of the initial fire on board Grandcamp was never determined. An anchor monument for the disaster records 576 persons known dead, 398 of whom were identified, and 178 listed as missing. The death toll includes crewmembers, firemen and bystanders. Grandcamp was owned by the Republic of France.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, the disaster brought changes in chemical manufacturing and new regulations for the bagging, handling, and shipping of chemicals. In addition to cool temperatures, new regulations required specialized containers for storage and prohibited ammonium nitrate from being stored near other reactive materials.

By Professional Mariner Staff