Maritime Casualty News, February 2018

Fatality prompts safety alert on risks during towing, salvage

The U.S. Coast Guard has issued a safety alert urging towing and salvage crews to monitor changing weather forecasts and on-site conditions, and to carry weather-appropriate lifesaving equipment.

The alert, released Feb. 15, was prompted by a fatal capsizing recently of a small towing vessel. The towboat captain tried to complete a 12-hour dock-to-dock towing job before an approaching storm lashed the region. The report did not provide specifics on that incident, including its location.

The towboat got underway with its tow at about 1800, but within a few hours conditions had deteriorated. Temperatures dropped to 28 degrees, winds gusted to 35 knots and visibility was less than a quarter of a mile.

“The 21-foot towing vessel subsequently capsized due to heavy seas and wind at about 1:30 a.m. the next morning,” the alert said. “The deck hand on board the towed vessel saw the captain enter the water but lost sight of him due to darkness, the sea state and blizzard conditions.”

The captain was not wearing a personal flotation device (PFD), and investigators learned several life jackets aboard the sunken vessel had explicit warnings stating they were not suitable for freezing temperatures. The captain’s body was found a couple of days after the accident. He was not wearing a life jacket.

The Coast Guard strongly urges operators to heed weather warnings, consider safe havens along the way, and develop contingency plans for the route. It also recommends evaluating whether a particular job should proceed during hazardous weather; wearing a PFD and ensuring the models kept on board are suited for the conditions where the vessel operates; and using a flotation coat or deck-style PFD during cold-water operations.

To read the full alert, visit

NTSB releases final report on sinking of El Faro

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a comprehensive final report into the sinking of the cargo ship El Faro, which went down on Oct. 1, 2015, near Crooked Island in the Bahamas with 33 people on board.

The NTSB met in December to adopt a probable cause, which focused on the captain’s actions and decisions leading up to the sinking, shortcomings by vessel operator TOTE Maritime, and shortcomings in an inspection regime that oversaw the 41-year-old ship. The 299-page report was released in early February.

The conclusions align with the board’s official findings reached in December but also include extensive information on the accident. The report also contains maps, diagrams and images collected during the course of the 25-month investigation.

To view the report, visit

Two injured in grounding of California tour boat

Two people were injured when a tour boat with 43 people aboard ran aground in San Francisco Bay near Berkeley Marina.

The Coast Guard learned of the incident at about 1430 on Feb. 10 when vessel crew reported the grounding, the service said in a news release. Coast Guard crews from several nearby stations and the city of Berkeley Fire Department responded to the 52-foot passenger vessel Osprey.

Authorities evacuated the passengers and transported them to nearby Berkeley Marina while the two crewmembers remained on board. The injured passengers were taken to the city fire department by emergency crews for treatment, according to the release.

The cause of the grounding remains under investigation.

Casualty flashback: February 1952

Two T2 tankers sailing off Cape Cod broke up during a powerful storm on Feb. 18, 1952, resulting in the deaths of 14 mariners. The toll likely would have been far worse if not for a remarkable Coast Guard rescue.

Coast Guard rescue teams were searching for SS Fort Mercer when Station Chatham radar units picked up SS Pendleton, which also had broken in two. Pendleton’s bow sunk quickly with eight hands lost. But a 36-foot Coast Guard lifeboat expertly helmed by Bernard Webber, a boatswain’s mate first class, rescued 32 men from the stern section despite the battering storm.

The ship’s cook, who had been assisting crew down the ladder, died when he jumped into the sea and was hit by a rescue boat.

Coast Guard crews also saved crewmembers aboard SS Fort Mercer who were trapped in the bow and stern. The five mariners who died all were in the bow, which sank. The stern remained afloat and crew escaped to life rafts and a surf boat.

The Pendleton rescue remains one of the proudest moments in Coast Guard history. The service named a cutter after Webber, and actor Chris Pine portrayed him in the 2016 Disney film The Finest Hours that immortalized the rescue.

Webber died in 2009 at age 80, three years before the cutter was commissioned in his honor.

By Professional Mariner Staff