Maritime Casualty News, January 2016

Safety alert warns of dredging equipment hazards

The Coast Guard has warned commercial and recreational vessel operators to be careful around dredging sites and be aware of floating equipment that can be difficult to see. The agency urged dredging firms to make sure equipment is properly marked as required by federal regulations.

The recommendations came in a Dec. 30 safety alert that suggested incidents involving improperly marked and unmarked dredge equipment have caused vessel sinkings, serious injuries and deaths.

“There have been too many instances where outboard motor propelled vessels have allided with a dredge pipe causing the motor to recoil into the boat and strike the occupants or eject them from the vessel,” the alert said.

“Operators should always be on the lookout for floating debris and unmarked hazards and operate at a speed that allows them to see and avoid the hazards,” it continued.

Dredge operators routinely use plastic pipes that float mostly submerged along the surface, making them hard to see, the alert said. Equipment that’s not properly marked, not marked at all or left behind in busy waterways pose the biggest risk.

“The result is extensive damage to hulls, shafting, rudders and keels. The damage often sinks the involved vessel and causes passenger injuries and deaths,” the alert said.

The Coast Guard asked recreational and commercial boaters as well as vessel repair facilities to report the location of such equipment. They urged travel at safe speeds around dredge sites where equipment might be present.

Dredging companies and others that could create navigation hazards are urged to follow Navigation Rules requirements. The alert warns that failure to do so could lead to federal fines and civil lawsuits.

Barges hit Vicksburg Railroad Bridge on three consecutive days

Barges struck the Vicksburg Railroad Bridge on three consecutive days this month, and at least five barges sank during the incidents.

Those incidents, and others on the Lower Mississippi River during the second week of January, occurred during a period of unusually high water and fast conditions, the Coast Guard said.

The first incident occurred shortly before 0900 on Jan. 12 when the towing vessel Ron W. Callegan hit the rail bridge. Nine of the vessel’s 22 coal barges broke away and four ultimately sank, according to the Coast Guard and local news reports.

The Coast Guard established a safety zone along 12 miles of the river to secure the loose barges and determine where the others sank.

The next day, on Jan. 13, the towing vessel Inez Andreas struck the same bridge, causing two barges to break free. One later sank around mile marker 435.8 but was not considered a hazard to navigation, the Coast Guard said in a news release.

Authorities responded to another strike at about 0744 on Jan. 14 involving the towing vessel Robert D. Byrd. None of the barges under tow during that incident broke away.

Officials closed the Vicksburg Rail Bridge after the first incident to conduct an inspection and it’s not clear if the incidents damaged the span. The Coast Guard said it was considering additional safety measures to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Earlier that week, on Jan. 11, the Coast Guard responded to a bridge strike near Helena, Ark., that damaged barges containing denatured alcohol. Over the next four days, almost 2 million gallons of denatured alcohol were removed from the damaged barges, but about 292,000 gallons entered the river, officials said.

The towing vessel Lucia struck barges in the Stone Fleet just after midnight on Jan. 15, causing six barges to break away, the Coast Guard said in a news release. About 20 gallons of oil from transport lines spilled into the river as a result of the incident.

Sections of the Lower Mississippi River were at or above flood stage during these incidents following a period of historically wet weather in the Midwest. The flooding is responsible for at least 20 deaths.

Fire aboard liquid gas carrier closes Houston channel

The Coast Guard closed about two miles of the Houston Ship Channel after a fire was reported on a liquid gas tanker.

The incident aboard the 521-foot Navigator Europa occurred on Dec. 14 as the ship was loading liquid ethylene/C2. The fire, believed to be in the compressor room, was extinguished and nobody was injured, according to a Coast Guard news release. The agency determined the liquid ethylene posed no threats to safety or the environment.

“Coast Guard Station Houston response boats and Port of Houston fire boats responded immediately to secure the area and suppress the fire, which was reported to have come from the compressor room,” the Coast Guard said in a news release.

Local authorities sent fire and hazardous materials teams to assist with the response, the release said.

The Coast Guard closed a section of the Upper Channel from Houston Ship Channel light 164 to light 151 during the incident, delaying several vessels traveling in both directions.

The Coast Guard did not release the cause of the fire.

Coast Guard rescues two from capsized tug

Coast Guard crews from southern Louisiana rescued two mariners after their tugboat capsized in open water off Baptiste Collette, La., earlier this month. Video of the incident shows the mariners clinging to the vessel’s superstructure as help arrived.

Crew aboard the tugboat Katlynn Necole contacted the Coast Guard at about 1430 on Jan. 5 after the vessel started taking on water, according to a Coast Guard press release. The Coast Guard cutter Razorbill and crew boat Simon responded to the sinking tug located two miles east of Baptiste Collette. Baptiste Collette is on the far southern end of the Mississippi River delta.

The cutter’s small boat retrieved the mariners from the partially submerged Katlynn Necole, and the cutter carried them back to the Delta community of Venice. Nobody was hurt during the incident.

The cause of the capsizing is under investigation.

Casualty flashback: January 1952

The U.S.-flagged cargo ship Flying Enterprise was sailing from Hamburg, Germany, to New York City with a varied cargo that included pig iron, vehicles and high-end antiques when it sank in January of 1952 off Falmouth, England. Some people believe the ship also was carrying material for the secret USS Nautilus nuclear-powered submarine.

The 395-foot Flying Enterprise encountered rough seas west of the English Channel. On Dec. 27, 1951 it sustained a crack in its weather deck. A day later, things got worse for the crew when at least one rogue wave struck the 8-year-old ship.  

"This fracture did not cause the Flying Enterprise to founder,” according to a U.S. Coast Guard report on the accident released in February 1952. “On 28 December 1951, the impact of a huge sea rolled the vessel about 50 to 70 degrees, caused the cargo to shift and permanently listed the vessel about 25 degrees to port.”

“This impact also disabled the steering apparatus, causing the Flying Enterprise to helplessly wallow in the trough of the sea,” the report continued. “Various unsuccessful efforts were made to correct the list and steering gear failure.”

Nearly all of the 41-person crew and its 10 passengers abandoned ship on Dec. 29. Rescue ships were waiting nearby to pick them up, although a male passenger died during the transfer.

Arrangements were made to tow the ship to Falmouth, but the towline parted on Jan. 9 and the vessel sank on Jan. 10, 1952, with newsreel cameras rolling. The ship was about 40 miles from Falmouth at the time.

Master Kurt Carlsen remained on the ship throughout the ordeal, and he was later joined by a mate from the tug Turmoil, who helped secure the towline days before the ship sank. Carlsen and the mate from Turmoil abandoned ship shortly before it went down stern-first. The Coast Guard incident report praised Carlsen’s actions before and after the crew and passengers abandoned ship.

According to the Coast Guard report, the main cargo on Flying Enterprise was more than 1,200 tons of pig iron. But there have been reports that the ship carried 71 tons of mystery cargo. Some believe this was zirconium slated for use in the nuclear reactor of USS Nautilus, according to the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in England. At the time, the sub was a secret U.S. Navy project.

In any case, Nautilus launched in 1954, becoming the world’s first operational nuclear-powered submarine. It was decommissioned in 1980.

By Professional Mariner Staff