Maritime Casualty News, February 2020

Bouchard ATBs ordered to berth in New York Harbor

The U.S. Coast Guard ordered three Bouchard Transportation articulated tug-barge (ATB) units anchored for weeks in New York Harbor to return to port due to concerns about low fuel and dwindling crew.

The order came in mid-February after the tugs and unloaded barges spent weeks shifting between anchorages. The Coast Guard, after conducting safety checks, determined “the operational condition of these vessels (posed) a risk to the safety of New York and New Jersey waterways,” the service said in a news release.

“Specifically, Bouchard has been unable to consistently maintain safe fuel and manning levels aboard these vessels, and does not have adequate contingencies in place for emergency weather or other conditions requiring movement within the port,” the release continued. 

Bouchard, based in Melville, N.Y., is facing financial challenges that have affected much of its tugboat and barge fleet. Three other company ATBs also were anchored in New York Harbor at the time of the Coast Guard order. At least one of those ATBs has since returned to port. 

“This is not an action we wanted to take, however, we have a responsibility to keep our waterways safe, and Bouchard’s inability to maintain safe operational conditions aboard these tugs and fuel barges has forced me to take this step,” said Capt. Jason Tama, captain of the port of New York. 

A story with more details about the situation affecting Bouchard vessels and crews operating in New York and other U.S. ports will appear in the April issue of Professional Mariner.

Tugboat breaks free, sinks in Columbia River

A small tugboat sank after breaking free from its moorings in strong winds that pushed the vessel nearly a mile upriver. 

The 38-foot Nova sank on the Oregon side of the river near Umatilla at night on Feb. 23, roughly 10 miles upriver from McNary Dam, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. No one was on board at the time. The agency said the vessel sank with about 750 gallons of fuel, although it was unclear if any released into the river. 

Divers plugged vents on the tug, and response crews laid boom around the vessel within 18 hours of the sinking. Salvage crews were expected to begin working to raise the vessel on Feb. 26. HME Construction owns the tug. 

Officials from Washington and Oregon state agencies and local tribal groups were among those who responded to the sinking.

Multiple barges break away from St. Louis fleeting area

The Coast Guard briefly closed the Mississippi River near St. Louis, Mo., after multiple barges broke free from a fleeting area between mile markers 176 and 177. 

The breakaway occurred Feb. 12 at about 0300. The service did not say how many barges broke free, and it did not identify the fleeting area. Towboats operating nearby gathered up the loose barges. There were no reports of property damage, pollution or injuries. 

“The Coast Guard works closely with our port partners and local law enforcement to properly manage incidents like this,” said Lt. Cmdr. Kathryn McCormack, the incident commander representing Sector Upper Mississippi River. “Anyone on the water should maintain vigilance while operating on the waterway.” 

Authorities from Missouri and Illinois responded to the incident. The Coast Guard is investigating the circumstances of the breakaway but has not released the cause.

Casualty flashback: February 2001

The Japanese fisheries training ship Ehime Maru was underway roughly 10 miles off Oahu, Hawaii, when the U.S. Navy nuclear-powered submarine USS Greeneville shot to the surface from under the ship. 

The submarine’s rudder sliced the 191-foot Japanese vessel from starboard to port on Feb. 9, 2001, at about 1340. Ehime Maru rapidly took on water and within five minutes it sank stern-first, according to published reports from the time.

There were 35 people aboard Ehime Maru: Twenty crew, 13 teenage students, and two instructors teaching long-line fishing, navigation and other basics for future fishermen. The ship was less than halfway through a 74-day voyage at the time. Nine people — three crew, four students and both instructors — were killed. 

Investigators later learned that civilians aboard the submarine were in the control room at the time of the collision, a detail that stoked concern among some Japanese citizens and government officials. Perceptions that submarine Cmdr. Scott Waddle was not sufficiently apologetic, and news that the submarine crew did not assist survivors, also raised international tensions. 

The U.S. government paid more than $25 million in compensation to survivors and to the victims’ families. Roughly $8.5 million covered the cost of replacing the ship, which had trained numerous Japanese fishermen over the years.

By Professional Mariner Staff