Maritime Casualty News, July 2017

Safety alert cites risks during CO2 system testing

The U.S. Coast Guard is highlighting dangers when inspecting carbon dioxide (CO2) fire extinguishing systems following two recent close calls.

During one Coast Guard inspection highlighted in a July 20 safety alert, the chief mate used a heat gun to activate the vessel’s CO2 system heat actuator when he should have activated another component known as a heat temperature transmitter. The vessel’s CO2 system activated unexpectedly and the mate lost consciousness, although he was later revived.

In a separate incident cited in the alert, a CO2 system was inadvertently triggered and primed for release during Coast Guard inspection training. Officials opted to release the gas and conducted a headcount first but missed one person left in the engine room. The missing inspector was found before the gas was activated.

CO2 fire extinguishing systems can cause rapid suffocation, and the Coast Guard cited incidents where ship crew, technicians and inspectors have died from leaks or inadvertent release. Proper planning and risk mitigation plans are needed during CO2 system inspections and upgrades, the alert said.

The Coast Guard said CO2 testing and maintenance should be limited to people who have been adequately training and evaluated in such procedures. It also said everyone participating in the CO2 work should know each step of the process before starting.

Finally, the Coast Guard said risk prevention efforts should “always lean toward providing the greatest safety margins for those involved, including 100 percent accountability of all personnel aboard the vessel prior to conducting an operational test of a system.”

Visit to view the report and other Coast Guard safety documents.

Ferry, powerboat collide off Puerto Rico, injuring 21

Twenty-one people were injured when a commercial ferry collided with a powerboat at about 2145 on July 25 off Isla Magueyes in Lajas, Puerto Rico, on the southwest corner of the Caribbean island.

The captain of the ferry La Nena II reported the incident after colliding with the 33-foot powerboat Andrea. There were 10 people aboard the powerboat, while 28 passengers and two crew were on the ferry, according to a Coast Guard news release. People aboard both vessels suffered injuries.

“We were relieved to hear that all passengers and crew from both vessels had been accounted for and were receiving assistance from emergency medical service personnel on scene,” Cmdr. Janet Espino-Young, Sector San Juan chief of prevention, said in a statement.

Both vessels transited under their own power to the mainland Puerto Rico community of La Parguera. Medical personnel met the vessels as they arrived. Details of the collision were not immediately available and the Coast Guard and Puerto Rican authorities are investigating.

State's official tall ship grounds off Washington

The official tall ship of Washington state ran aground during a recent visit to Sequim Bay on the Olympic Peninsula.

Authorities learned shortly after 0800 on July 24 that the brig Lady Washington was stuck roughly 500 feet from shore. There were 14 crew and five passengers on board at the time, according to local media reports. The two-masted ship ultimately refloated with the tide at about 1500. There was no pollution or damage.

Lady Washington, built in 1989, is a replica of the 18th-century vessel of the same name. The original brig Lady Washington had a storied history sailing in the Pacific Ocean between the U.S. mainland, Hawaii and Asia.

Grays Harbor Historical Seaport of Aberdeen, Wash., operates the replica ship as an educational, instruction and excursion boat with capacity for 45 passengers and 12 crew.

Casualty flashback: July 1936

Fifteen people died when the self-loading freighter Material Service sank in Lake Michigan in late July 1936, less than a mile offshore from Chicago. Investigators later determined the captain who died in the accident was at fault.

The 240-foot ship, home-ported in Milwaukee, was carrying 2,400 tons of sand from Lockport, Ill., to Calumet, Ill., near Chicago. The vessel was approaching land in choppy conditions after midnight on July 29. The vessel’s steel cargo hold covers were not protected by waterproof tarpaulins. The hold hatches themselves had 40 8-inch holes, apparently to make loading faster, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report focused on hazards from historic shipwrecks.

“Below decks, third assistant engineer Joseph Change noticed an unusual amount of water in the bilges. Within five minutes this rose over two feet,” the report said, noting that the deck was swamped with a wave while Change went to wake the chief engineer.

“On his way the ship suddenly lurched to port,” the NOAA report continued. “Material Service was five minutes away from Calumet Harbor when a wave washed over her decks, causing the lurch to port felt throughout the ship.”

Moments later, the ship rolled over and quickly sank in about 35 feet of water. “In a pendulum motion, the deck swung almost vertical, starboard and port becoming up and down.” The captain and first mate were thrown into the lake, although the mate survived.

Most of the 22 crew were sleeping down below when the vessel went down. Seven people survived, including a crewman who was initially pulled under with the vessel. He had time to grab a life jacket before exiting the vessel and later said it saved his life.

For more information on the incident, visit

By Professional Mariner Staff