Maritime Casualty News, August 2014

Mass. ferry twice leaves passengers stranded at sea 

A Massachusetts passenger vessel has suffered two casualties this summer.

The 83-foot Cetacea is a ferry that also serves as a whale-watching boat. On July 28, with 163 people aboard for a whale tour, the vessel became disabled when a cable fouled its propeller.

The incident happened at about 1630 hours, and the occupants were stranded at sea overnight, 13 miles east of Nahant, Mass. The cable was part of the Northeast Gateway offshore LNG facility, the U.S. Coast Guard said in a news release.

The operator, Boston Harbor Cruises, hired divers to untangle the cable from the propeller, and another ferry arrived with the intention of transferring the passengers. Nighttime operations were deemed to be too dangerous, however. Food, water and blankets were provided to the passengers instead.

The next morning, divers from the vessels Bunker Hill and Scarlett Isabella freed the cable from the propeller. The Coast Guard cutter Tybee escorted Cetacea back to Boston, where the passengers finally disembarked.

Exactly one month later, on Aug. 28, Cetacea ran aground in Lynn Harbor during service as a commuter ferry between Lynn and Boston. The boat got stuck about a quarter-mile from its pier at 2020 hours, the Coast Guard said. Thirteen passengers and four crew were stranded until the vessel refloated at high tide about five hours later.

The Lynn-Boston ferry route was a trial service this summer. Due to its popularity, Boston Harbor Cruises extended the schedule for an extra two weeks through Sept. 26.

It was not the same captain who was involved in the July incident, officials said. 

Arctic medevac demonstrates value of Coast Guard northern deployment

A crewmember aboard a South Korean research ship suffered a head injury off Barrow, Alaska, in an incident that the U.S. Coast Guard said highlights the need for search-and-rescue assets in the Arctic.

The 43-year-old male was hurt aboard the icebreaking ship Araon on Aug. 19 while the vessel was more than 250 miles north of Barrow. A Coast Guard helicopter rendezvoused with the ship to medevac the victim. He was hoisted up to the helicopter and transported to a medical facility in Barrow. The weather was 35 degrees with 17 mph winds and heavy fog.

The helicopter crew was already forward-deployed to Barrow for the Arctic navigation season. The ship diverted southward to reduce the distance and come within the helicopter’s range. The Coast Guard cutter Healy assisted with communications.

“Maritime activity in the Arctic has steadily increased during the past several years, and this emergency situation highlights the importance of having a Coast Guard forward operating location in the region,” said Capt. Joseph Deer, the Coast Guard 17th District chief of incident management.

“Our ability to respond and effectively carry out rescue missions relies heavily on minimizing distances, honing communications capabilities and strengthening our maritime domain awareness in our northernmost area of responsibility,” Deer said.

Grain carrier loses steering, runs hard aground in Lake St. Clair

A 656-foot freighter lost steering and ran aground in Lake St. Clair, and salvors overcame difficult conditions to refloat the vessel.

Federal Rideau got stuck on July 27 while carrying a load of wheat from Thunder Bay, Ontario, en route to Montreal. The U.S. Coast Guard said the Hong Kong-flagged vessel was hard aground along the downbound shipping channel. The cause of the steering casualty was a motor coupling failure.

The Great Lakes Towing vessels Superior, Nebraska and Mississippi responded. Capt. Joseph Heaney, the first Great Lakes tug captain to arrive, said the crews were “working against the environment and the clock” in attempting to refloat Federal Rideau.

“When we got to the scene, we noticed that the boat was fighting the current, the wind was picking up, and there was a structure just 6 feet away from the vessel that we had to stay clear of,” Heaney said. “It was a tough situation.”

One attempt to dislodge the freighter failed after one of the tugboats experienced a motor failure, the Coast Guard said. The tugs refloated Federal Rideau on the morning of July 29, with no injuries or pollution reported. The Coast Guard said the motor coupling was repaired.

Casualty flashback: September 1934

Sept. 8 will mark the 80th anniversary of the Morro Castle disaster, which led to improvements in shipboard fire safety.

On the morning of Sept. 8, 1934, the 508-foot luxury ocean liner caught fire during a scheduled run between Havana, Cuba, and New York. Even before the blaze, the voyage was fraught with problems, including a Nor’easter and the death of the captain from an apparent heart attack.

While off the coast of New Jersey, at 0310 hours a fire was noticed in a storage locker. In less than a half-hour, the Ward Line ship was engulfed in flames. Because the fire had burned electrical cables, the 549 occupants could not see and radio communication was impossible. Hydraulic systems failed, so the crew could not steer the ship.

A total of 137 passengers and crew died after diving into the treacherous sea or becoming trapped aboard the burning ship. Investigators later determined that only six of the 12 lifeboats were deployed. With a combined capacity of 408, the boats carried only 85, mostly crewmembers. Morro Castle eventually beached itself off Asbury Park, N.J.

The investigation revealed that the ship’s luxurious decor, with elegant wood paneling and frequent painting, was a factor in the acceleration of the fire. The writing room containing the storage locker did not have a fire sensor. Hydrants failed to maintain water pressure and fire alarms were not loud enough. In addition, SOS transmissions were distorted.

The probe led to new standards requiring fire-retardant materials, better fire doors and alarms, emergency power generation and more disciplined fire drills. On the 75th anniversary in 2009, a memorial recognizing the victims and rescuers was installed at Convention Hall in Asbury Park.

By Professional Mariner Staff