Maritime Casualty News, February 2017

Six injured when Coast Guard boat strikes SC bridge

Six U.S. Coast Guard crewmembers were injured when their vessel struck a bridge near Charleston, S.C., while responding to an apparent small aircraft accident.

The 45-foot response boat-medium struck the rubber bumpers around the Paul Gelegotis Bridge at 2208 on Feb. 19. The vessel did not make contact with the actual support pillars, according to the Coast Guard.

It’s not clear what part of the vessel hit the bumpers, and the Coast Guard said damage estimates were not available.

After the accident, crew steered the response boat to the St. Johns Yacht Harbor adjacent to the bridge, which carries traffic over the Stono River between Johns Island and James Island. The span is also known as the Stono River Bridge.

Paramedics transported the Coast Guard personnel to a hospital, where they were treated for minor injuries and released. The cause of the accident isn’t clear, although the Coast Guard is investigating.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the aircraft incident that spurred the response, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

Coast Guard rescues lift boat crew off Southwest Pass

Four people working on a lift boat were rescued after the vessel reportedly became unstable off Southwest Pass, La., and damaged a gas platform.

Coast Guard officials were notified at about 0320 on Feb. 15 that a leg on the lift boat Superior Trust had failed. Part of the vessel later made contact with a natural-gas platform walkway, according to the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard deployed a 45-foot response boat-medium from Venice, La., which arrived about 70 minutes after the initial call and carried the lift boat crew back to shore. Nobody was hurt, but 10 gallons of oil spilled during the incident involving the platform.

“(Lift boat owner) Superior Energy is developing a salvage plan to recover Superior Trust and has a pollution cleanup company on standby,” the Coast Guard said in a news release. “I.G. Petroleum LLC is deploying a vessel to survey the damage to the platform and begin repairs.”

World War II-era tug spills oil into Florida river

A privately owned tugboat built during World War II leaked bilge oil into the Halifax River near Daytona Beach, Fla., according to the Coast Guard.

The single-screw Tutahaco was moored in the river when a neighbor spotted a sheen around the boat at about 1545 on Feb. 8. Roughly 100 gallons reached the waterway, the Coast Guard said.

Response teams from the Coast Guard and Oil Spill Removal Organization laid 600 feet of containment boom around the tugboat and also placed absorbent boom along the shore. Pads and vacuum trucks also were used to minimize environmental impacts.

Tutahaco is a former Navy tug built in 1945. The Navy struck it from its register in 1986 and sold it the same year. The tug was later a floating residence and was under consideration for a floating museum, according to the naval history website

The cause of the leak on the vessel, which has been moored in the river for many years, is still under investigation.

Casualty flashback: February 1972

Before the El Faro, Marine Electric and SS Poet tragedies at sea, there was V.A. Fogg.

After offloading benzene at two terminals, the 572-foot modified T2 tanker left Freeport, Texas, at about 1240 on Feb. 1, 1972, to remove the chemical residue from its tanks in the Gulf of Mexico. About three hours later, the ship sustained multiple explosions and sank roughly 50 miles from Freeport, according to the U.S. Coast Guard accident report. All 39 hands on board died in the incident.

Authorities learned of a possible problem aboard V.A. Fogg when it did not arrive in Galveston for its next job. The wreckage was found on Feb. 11 in about 100 feet of water, according to the Coast Guard report. Damage to the vessel was extensive. Hull and deck plating was blown off the ship and found several hundred feet from the wreckage. Divers also found “massive internal damage.”

Authorities never determined the source of ignition aboard the vessel, although the National Transportation Safety Board cited the highly flammable benzene vapors in the tanks and on deck as the probable cause of the explosion.

"Using estimated air and water temperatures which affected the V.A. Fogg (on Feb. 1), it was determined that the benzene vapor concentration in the cargo tanks probably ranged between 5.7 and 8 percent," the NTSB report said, adding that such a level "constitutes a dangerous situation."

Electrically charged mist in the tanks, excessive heat or sparks from deep well pumps on the main deck, and flames or sparks at the stacks coming from an automated boiler system were considered as potential ignition sources. Portable blowers known as “red devils” used to ventilate tanks also were considered a possible ignition source.

The incident led to greater scrutiny of tank-cleaning practices, although the Coast Guard determined the industry was already familiar with existing regulations prohibiting spark-producing devices in tanks and other enclosed spaces. 

By Professional Mariner Staff