Maritime Casualty News, August 2020

Four mariners die in dredge explosion near Corpus Christi

Four crew working aboard Waymon L. Boyd died after the dredging vessel caught fire Friday, Aug. 21, in the Corpus Christi Ship Channel. At least two other crewmen on the vessel survived the incident. 

The fire was reported at about 0815 in the port facility in Corpus Christi, Texas. The vessel continued burning throughout the day before breaking apart and sinking at about 2200 that night. The Coast Guard is investigating the incident but has not yet determined the cause. The bodies of all four victims from the incident have been recovered.  

“We are devastated by the loss of four of our colleagues, each of whom has been a valuable part of the Orion team for many years,” Mark Stauffer, CEO of Orion Marine Group, said in a statement. “Our heartfelt prayers and sympathy are extended to their families and friends, and we ask that everyone please respect their privacy as we all work to recover from this terrible incident.”

Salvage efforts remained underway as of this week. Roughly 1,600 gallons of diesel fuel have been recovered from the water, the Coast Guard said.

Coast Guard icebreaker damaged by engine room fire

One of the Coast Guard’s last heavy-duty icebreakers suffered a fire in a main propulsion motor while underway toward the Arctic, and it has since turned around and is returning to its Seattle home port. 

The fire aboard Healy started at about 2130 on Aug. 18 while the vessel was roughly 60 nautical miles off Seward, Alaska, the Coast Guard said. Responders aboard the ship disconnected the affected motor and extinguished the fire at about 2156. No injuries were reported. 

“The propulsion motors are critical equipment that use the power generated by the ship’s main diesel engines to spin the shaft and propeller. This design protects the engines from variations in shaft speeds inherent to ice operations,” the Coast Guard said in a statement. 

“Due to the fire, Healy’s starboard propulsion motor and shaft are no longer operational, and the ship is transiting back to its home port in Seattle for further inspection and repairs,” the statement continued. 

The vessel, considered a medium icebreaker, picked up 11 scientists in Seward on Aug. 15, and it got underway Aug. 18 not long before the fire started. All Arctic operations have now been cancelled, the service said. 

Polar Star, the Coast Guard’s lone heavy icebreaker, has had a series of mechanical issues in recent years, including a 2019 fire in its incinerator room. VT Halter Marine won a contract to build a new polar security cutter with options for two more, although the first delivery won’t happen until at least 2024. 

Tour boat hits shoal in St. Lawrence River

All 134 people were safely transported off a tour boat that struck a shoal in the St. Lawrence River near Summerland Island and began taking on water. 

The incident involving the Uncle Sam’s Boat Tour vessel Island Duchess happened during the afternoon on Aug. 20, a couple miles north of Alexandria Bay, N.Y. The 134 passengers were offloaded to another company tour boat and returned to the dock. 

Island Duchess was salvaged later that same day. According to environmental advocacy group Save the River, Hunt Underwater Specialties, Seaway Marine Group and W.D. Bach assisted with the salvage. Oil boom was placed around the vessel to prevent environmental damage. 

The cause of the grounding is under investigation. The extent of the damage to the three-deck monohull tour boat was not available. Nobody aboard the vessel was hurt. 

Casualty flashback: August 1930

The ocean liner RMS Tahiti suffered a catastrophic failure while underway in the Pacific Ocean, and the response by Norwegian and American ships ensured all passengers and crew survived. Pictures and video of the sinking were later disseminated worldwide.

Tahiti, a 406-foot steamship, left Wellington, New Zealand, on Aug. 12, 1930, for San Francisco with intermediate stops in Rarotonga and Tahiti. Its starboard propeller shaft broke at about 0430 on Aug. 15, opening a hole in the hull below the waterline. 

Late on Aug. 16, about 36 hours later, the Norwegian steamer SS Penybryn reached the disabled ship, some 450 miles from Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. It remained alongside when the Matson steamer Ventura arrived at about 1000 on Aug. 17. The vessel took all 250 passengers and crew on board.

Tahiti sank at about 1645 that same day. It remained afloat after the shaft failure thanks to herculean efforts from the crew, Ventura’s captain later told a newspaper reporter. 

Some of Tahiti’s passengers had cameras and video equipment. Many captured memorable images that were later published in newspapers and shown in cinemas across the U.S.

A British inquiry found no negligence between the vessel owner or crew, noting that shafts broke with some regularity at sea, but that such catastrophic effects were rare.

By Professional Mariner Staff