Maritime Casualty News, April 2018

El Faro tragedy spurs warning on lube oil systems

The U.S. Coast Guard is asking ship managers and onboard engineering crew to review their vessels’ mechanical systems based on lessons learned from the El Faro tragedy.

In a safety alert issued in early April, the service strongly urged engineering personnel to fully understand the effects of heavy weather on their ships’ propulsion systems.

It also requested ship managers ensure that their engine equipment, electrical plants and emergency power systems meet class society standards and international safety regulations — particularly during “dynamic conditions” of list and trim.

Authorities believe the lube oil pump on El Faro’s main engine lost suction in the hours before the ship sank, causing it to lose propulsion. Thirty-three mariners died in the sinking on Oct. 1, 2015, near the Bahamas.

Multiple investigations point to the ship’s lube oil system losing pressure. These inquiries suggest that the lube oil suction-pipe bellmouth was no longer submerged due to the ship’s extreme list and trim at the bow. El Faro was believed to have an acceptable but relatively low lube oil level in the sump.

“A detailed modeling and static analysis of El Faro’s lube oil system determined that a severe inclination of the ship, coupled with a relatively low volume of oil in the sump, would likely result in a loss of pump suction,” the safety alert said.

For more information on the alert, visit

Dredge barge burns after damaging natural gas pipeline

Federal and state authorities established a unified command after a dredge barge punctured a gas pipeline near Port O’Connor, Texas, and caught fire.

Jonathon King Boyd hit the pipeline owned by Genesis Energy during the evening of April 17, roughly two miles from Port O’Connor, the Coast Guard said. Photos taken shortly after the accident show the dredge enveloped by flames. It sustained extensive fire damage.

The 10 crewmembers aboard the dredge owned by RLB Contracting Inc. escaped to a good Samaritan vessel, First State, which was nearby when the incident occurred.

The Port Lavaca Fire Department led firefighting efforts alongside a firefighting barge. A pollution response company placed containment boom around Jonathon King Boyd, according to the Coast Guard. The burned vessel was later towed to Port Lavaca.

Authorities established a safety zone around the dredge and closed the Intracoastal Waterway between mile markers 468 and 474. The closure included the Matagorda Ship Channel.

The accident is under investigation.

NOAA ship damaged in Seattle grounding

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) survey ship Rainier grounded and struck a seawall in a Seattle ship canal.

The 231-foot ship hit bottom while transiting Montlake Cut in the Lake Washington Ship Canal, according to published reports. No one on the vessel was injured, and it’s not clear if it sustained any damage.

Rainier was built in 1968 and is the sister ship to Fairweather. Rainier is home-ported in Newport, Ore., and typically operates in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, gathering information about the seafloor.

According to NOAA's website, the ship is equipped with a Kongsberg EM 710 multibeam sonar system and a Rolls-Royce moving vessel profiler (MVP) 200 sound speed acquisition system. The agency considers it “the most productive coastal hydrographic survey platform in the world.”

Casualty flashback: April 1981

Two Japanese sailors died after the cargo ship Nissho Maru sank in the East China Sea about 15 minutes after colliding with the American submarine George Washington.

The submarine was underway at periscope depth on April 9 when the collision occurred about 130 miles south-southwest of Sasebo, Japan. George Washington returned to base for repairs, and the freighter continued traveling away from the sub in heavy fog.

Nissho Maru later sank, with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force rescuing 13 of the ship's 15 sailors.

The U.S. Navy later issued a report suggesting errors by crew aboard the submarine contributed to the sinking. The incident also caused friction between the U.S. and Japan and spurred a formal response from President Ronald Reagan.

By Professional Mariner Staff