Maritime Casualty News, April 2017

Two killed, two seriously burned in bulker explosion

An explosion killed two mariners and injured two others on a bulk carrier sailing from Baltimore to the Azores, and response efforts were complicated by the vessel’s location roughly 1,300 miles east of Cape Cod.

The captain of the 623-foot Marshall Islands-flagged Tamar reported the explosion in the ship’s forward storeroom at about 0700 on April 24, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. One crewmember died in the blast and a second mariner died from injuries about 12 hours after the incident. Two other people on board suffered serious burns.

Rescue crews from at least three countries were involved in the response. The New York Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing dispatched an HC-130 plane carrying six pararescuers and a combat rescue officer.

The pararescuers jumped from the HC-130 with two small boats and advanced life-saving equipment to provide medical treatment for the crewmembers, the U.S. Coast Guard said. The Canadian Coast Guard diverted two warships with physician assistants aboard. The Portuguese coast guard sent a helicopter to pick up the wounded crew and carry them to Ponta Delgada in the Azores.

Tamar's crew extinguished the fire on the ship and it did not affect propulsion. The cause of the blast is not known and it’s not clear which agency will oversee the accident investigation.

The explosion occurred at a point in the North Atlantic that divides rescue agencies in North America and Europe. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the 1st Coast Guard District covering the northeastern U.S. is responsible for offshore search and rescue within 1,300 miles of American shores.

“After 1,300 miles,” the agency said, “the Portuguese coast guard assumes coordination authority for cases east of the boundary.”

Towboat sinks in Mississippi River, leaks fuel

The Coast Guard is investigating the sinking of a towboat on the Mississippi River near Columbus, Ky., that resulted in about 235 gallons of diesel leaking into the waterway.

The 1,600-hp Todd Brown sank April 17 on the river’s right descending bank. The towboat, operated by Ingram Barge Co., was carrying about 17,500 gallons of diesel and another 300 gallons of lube and hydraulic oils, according to a Coast Guard news release.

Authorities established a unified command to oversee the spill response and salvage. SWS Environmental Services “contained and collected” the spilled fuel, the Coast Guard said. More than 10,500 gallons of oily water were removed from the vessel; remaining diesel will be removed at an Ingram repair yard.

Todd Brown was raised by April 26 and preparations were being made for transport to the repair facility. The cause of the accident is still undetermined.

Alaska tug sinks at pier, slides into deeper water

A tugboat tied up at a pier for more than a decade sank this month in Starrigavan Bay in Sitka, Alaska, then drifted along the seafloor into deeper water.

The 81-foot Powhatan carried about 325 gallons of lube oil and another 12 gallons of diesel when it sank at about 2200 on April 19. Vessel owner Samson Tug and Barge was working with the Southeast Alaska Petroleum Response Organization on developing a salvage plan. 

The tug initially sank at the dock in about 45 feet of water, but it slid down a steep slope on the seafloor and came to rest almost 1,100 feet away in 200 feet of water, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said in an incident report. Response crews deployed boom around the tug’s final location and salvage teams capped fuel tank vents on April 25.

An overflight after the sinking detected a sheen extending roughly 1 nm around the vessel, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It is not yet clear how much oil escaped the tug, and local agencies are monitoring impacts on shorelines and aquatic wildlife.

“Weathered oil sheens appear in the clam beds of North Starrigavan Beach when the sediment is disturbed," the Alaska DEC said in its report. “This beach is used for clam harvesting. No sea mammals have been observed by response teams or reported.”

It’s not clear why the vessel sank. The Coast Guard is investigating the incident.

Casualty flashback: April 1838

The paddle wheeler Moselle was considered one of the fastest passenger vessels on the inland waterways in the 1830s. It reportedly made the 750-mile voyage from St. Louis to Cincinnati in two days, 16 hours. At the time, that was the quickest such journey by several hours.

Moselle was barely into a voyage from Cincinnati to St. Louis on April 25, 1838, when a powerful explosion tore through the vessel as it traveled west on the Ohio River. There were about 280 passengers and crew on board and more than 160 people died.

The explosion apparently occurred in the engine room as all four boilers burst at once, according to a report in the book Lloyd’s Steamship Disasters by John Lloyd. The vessel’s captain and owner died after being thrown a considerable distance from the vessel.

“As soon as the accident occurred, the boat flowed down the stream for about 100 yards, where she sunk, leaving the upper part of the cabin out of the water," Lloyd wrote.

Reports at the time suggested passengers had congregated on the decks after departure to enjoy the warm spring weather, likely increasing the number of casualties.

It’s not clear what caused the boilers to fail in the relatively new vessel. Moselle was built in Cincinnati and reportedly completed less than a month before the accident.

By Professional Mariner Staff