Maritime Casualty News, August 2017

Navy looks for answers after second fatal collision in Pacific

The U.S. Navy is looking to steady its Pacific fleet following the second fatal collision in two months involving its warships.

Divers have recovered the remains of multiple American sailors who died after an Aug. 21 collision between USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) and a tanker near Singapore. Ten sailors were listed as missing and five were injured when the guided-missile destroyer collided with the 600-foot Liberia-flagged Alnic MC before dawn east of the Strait of Malacca — a busy shipping lane.

The Navy did not identify the remains found during an extensive search and rescue that also involved Singapore and Royal Malaysian Navy vessels.

The 505-foot McCain was damaged above and below the waterline on its port side aft, the Navy said in a news release. The ship, which was headed toward Singapore for a routine port visit, sailed under its own power to the Changi Naval Base after the incident.

Navy officials have promised a detailed investigation of the incident, which happened two months after the American destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with the Philippines-flagged cargo ship ACX Crystal off Japan. Seven U.S. sailors died in the collision, which remains under investigation.

Fitzgerald and McCain, both Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, operate under the Navy’s 7th Fleet based in Yokosuka, Japan, which consists of up to 70 ships and submarines. Two days after the McCain accident, Navy leadership removed Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin from command of the fleet “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command,” the service said in a prepared statement.

“Rear Adm. Phil Sawyer, who has already been nominated and confirmed for the position and promotion to vice admiral, will assume command immediately,” the Navy said.

Three days before the McCain accident, Aucoin relieved Fitzgerald’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, "due to a loss of confidence in his ability to lead.” Benson was seriously injured in the accident and has been reassigned to a post in Washington, D.C.

The ship’s executive officer and command master chief also were relieved of their duties following an investigation of that incident, which occurred June 17. Officer and enlisted crew aboard the ship also faced sanctions.

The Navy called for a fleetwide “operational pause” to focus on watch-standing, safe navigation, seamanship and other key skills following the McCain accident. The 7th Fleet completed that review on Aug. 23.

Judge suspends captain’s license for Columbia River incident

A judge has suspended the license of an excursion boat captain for one month after the vessel was involved in a slow-speed collision with recreational boats in the Columbia River two years ago.

A U.S. Coast Guard administrative law judge determined Portland Spirit Capt. Lowell Gillespie Jr. “violated Rule 8 of the Inland Rules of Navigation, in that he failed to take appropriate actions to avoid a collision” during the incident on Aug. 1, 2015.

The incident occurred during the Portland (Ore.) Red Bull Flugtag gathering involving hundreds of recreational boats, some of which blocked Portland Spirit’s route, according to the Coast Guard. Video shows the excursion boat bumping several smaller vessels while making its way through the flotilla.

The Coast Guard issued a letter of warning to Red Bull after the accident and issued a similar letter to Gillespie, but he apparently declined it. The Coast Guard then filed a complaint against his credential, the release said.

Gillespie must surrender his license for a month and also complete a 12-month probationary period. Failure to successfully complete that probationary period will result in another one-month suspension. Gillespie can appeal the judge’s ruling to the commandant of the Coast Guard.

Laker refloated after St. Marys River grounding

Authorities closed the St. Marys River from the Soo Locks to Six Mile Point after the 629-foot bulk carrier Calumet grounded before midnight on Aug. 9 north of Sugar Island, Mich.

Calumet was in ballast sailing from Essar Steel in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, to Brevort, Mich., when it became stuck. The laker was freed two days later after offloading ballast water, the Coast Guard said.

Divers later checked the ship’s hull at a nearby anchorage and found it was not damaged. No injuries were reported and there was no environmental damage. Seven commercial ships were delayed during the two-day closure.

Grand River Navigation of Traverse City, Mich., owns the U.S.-flagged Calumet, which can carry 19,600 tons of cargo. The Coast Guard is investigating the accident and has not yet determined the cause.

Casualty flashback: August 1955

On a seasonable summer day, 23 passengers joined four crew aboard the 125-foot schooner Levin J. Marvel for a pleasure cruise around Chesapeake Bay. The voyage turned tragic when the historic vessel capsized in strong winds from Hurricane Connie near Fairhaven, Md.

Fourteen people on the 64-year-old schooner died in the accident, which occurred in the early afternoon of Aug. 12, 1955. Seven of the 13 survivors clung to debris and ultimately made it to shore, while two men using a small wooden boat rescued the six others, according to a summary written by the Bayview History Museum in North Beach, Md.

The two men, William K. MacWilliams Sr. and George L. Kellam Jr., used a 12-foot boat with an outboard motor to rescue the six survivors, who huddled in a duck blind about 1,000 feet from shore. The rescuers wore no life jackets despite heavy rain, winds gusting to 57 mph and 12-foot waves.

“When the men got to the blind and learned that six people had taken shelter there, MacWilliams was ‘chagrined,’” according to the Carnegie Hero Fund, which recognized the two men in 1956. “He thought they had enough gasoline for maybe two trips, but he also knew that he could only take two people at a time or the boat would sink.”

During the rescuers' final trip to the duck blind, water increasingly pooled in the small boat, “and as MacWilliams piloted onto the beach, a wave drowned the engine.” The blind where the survivors huddled apparently collapsed soon afterward.

By Professional Mariner Staff