Maritime Casualty News, January 2018

Three killed in explosion on Kentucky towboat

Three people died and at least six others were injured when a towboat exploded while undergoing repairs on the Tennessee River.

The explosion aboard William E. Strait happened at 0917 on Jan. 19 near Calvert City in western Kentucky. The vessel, owned by Smithland Towing, was docked at the First Marine shipyard at the time.

“Preliminary investigation has shown an explosion resulted in a flash fire and subsequent small fire inside the tugboat,” Kentucky State Police Det. Jody Cash said in a news release.

The three people who died were identified as Timothy L. Wright, 52, of Calvert City, Ky.; Jerome A. Smith, 56, of Thibodaux, La.; and Quentin J. Stewart, 41, of Opelousas, La. The men were pronounced dead at the scene.

Six people were hospitalized with injuries ranging from minor to serious, the state police said.

The U.S. Coast Guard and Occupational Safety and Health Administration also are investigating the incident. The cause of the explosion has not been determined.

Barges break away, pile up at Ohio River dam

Salvage crews are continuing to remove barges that broke away from Ohio River fleeting areas in Pennsylvania and West Virginia earlier this month.

Authorities said 61 barges came loose from fleeting areas near Pittsburgh, Pa., and Moundsville, W.Va., on Jan. 13. The Coast Guard blamed ice and high water for the incidents, which occurred roughly 90 river miles apart.

Crews removed at least two barges jammed against the Emsworth Lock and Dam above and below the river surface. Officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers believe the dam was not damaged in the breakaway, which resulted in at least a dozen barges being pushed against the structure. At least seven went over it.

The Coast Guard and Army Corps established a base in West Virginia at mile marker 95.7 to coordinate the removal of barges near Moundsville. The river was closed for more than a week from mile markers 2 to 20 near Pittsburgh and mile markers 95 to 105 amid concerns about obstructions in the waterway.

Cutter frees two tugboats from Hudson River ice

The Coast Guard cutter Penobscot Bay responded to two tugboats threatened by ice in the Hudson River during a severe cold spell that began in late December.

Crew aboard the tugboat Brooklyn sought help on Dec. 31 after becoming beset by ice near Saugerties, N.Y. A day later, the tugboat Stephanie Dann became stuck while pushing an oil barge near Kingston, N.Y.

Penobscot Bay, a 140-foot icebreaking tug, reached Brooklyn on New Year’s Eve. The 65-foot Coast Guard harbor tug Hawser escorted Brooklyn to Albany, according to the Coast Guard.

Penobscot Bay responded to Stephanie Dann on Jan. 2 after the tug and its barge remained stuck in the ice overnight. “The icebreaker was able to clear an area for the tug to continue its transit,” the Coast Guard said.

The service deployed several cutters and icebreaking tugs at various points along the Hudson during the unusually cold weather, which lasted nearly two weeks and affected maritime trade from the Great Lakes to West Virginia.

Casualty flashback: January 1936

One of the worst shipwrecks in Oregon history occurred early on Jan. 12, 1936, when the freighter SS Iowa ran aground on the Columbia River Bar. The ship broke up in the waves and all 34 sailors aboard died.

Gale conditions escalated into hurricane-force winds as Iowa entered the Pacific Ocean. The single-screw ship likely lost engine power after midnight on Jan. 11 and began drifting toward shore. The captain issued a distress call at 0345 on Jan. 12, and 45 minutes later a lighthouse keeper saw Iowa drifting toward Peacock Spit nearly three miles offshore.

According to an account in Offbeat Oregon, the ship broke apart in the waves, and at least one sailor was swept off the deck into the sea.

“Finally, after being a defenseless target to several more merciless combers, Iowa gave a violent heave, bobbed a trifle out of the water like a bouncing cork, and then slipped silently and swiftly out of sight,” the Portland Oregonian reported. “Only the mast remained above the water.”

Coast Guard crews responded to the distress call but could not reach the ship in the severe conditions. Authorities recovered the bodies of just six of the 34 sailors.

The 410-foot Iowa was built in 1920 at Western Pipe and Steel Co. in San Francisco for the U.S. government. States Steamship Co. acquired the vessel eight years before the accident.

By Professional Mariner Staff