Maritime Casualty News, July 2019

Kirby to pay $2.2 million fine for 2016 BC diesel spill

Kirby Corp. has pleaded guilty to criminal charges in connection with an October 2016 diesel spill in pristine waters off British Columbia’s Central Coast, and the Houston-based company will pay a $2.2 million fine.

The decision, reached in a provincial court in Bella Bella, B.C., does not end legal challenges related to the case. The Heiltsuk Nation still has a civil case pending against Kirby stemming from the spill. 

Roughly 29,000 gallons of diesel and oil products escaped after the articulated tug-barge (ATB) tugboat Nathan E. Stewart and its barge, DBL 55, struck a reef off Athlone Island while sailing to Vancouver. The tug later sank. Its seven crew escaped without injury. 

Kirby said it would pay the fine related to criminal counts under Canada’s Fisheries Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Pilotage Act, Canadian media reported. 

"We sincerely regret this incident, and we have amended our operating procedures, training, auditing, promotion protocols and equipment to help reduce the potential for future accidents," Kirby said in a prepared statement.

Safety alert: Laid-up ships need dedicated watch

After sunset on Feb. 16, the Great Lakes freighter St. Clair caught fire while moored for winter maintenance at the Port of Toledo in Ohio. The fire burned for more than 35 hours and spread throughout the ship’s engine compartment, superstructure and cargo-loading equipment. 

The fire appeared to start in the engine room from an unknown source. A Coast Guard safety alert highlighted ongoing hot work on the ship as well as propane heaters, electric heaters and heat lamps used in the machinery space. 

“Evidence revealed that the work crew used the machine shop and steering gear rooms to warm up during their work breaks,” the alert said. “The electric heaters in those spaces were left energized prior to the fire. All of the other vessel machinery was shut down.”

The watchman aboard another laid-up ship first noticed the flames at about 2000, roughly four hours after work stopped for the day. The watchman waited 45 minutes to call 911. The person normally assigned to watch the 762-foot St. Clair had gone home for the weekend. 

The safety alert stressed the importance of ensuring fire, safety and security watches when ships are laid up, particularly when those ships are undergoing repairs or connected with shore power. It also urged people on watch to have written instructions for their duties during a fire or emergency. 

The full alert can be found here.

Four vessels tied together sink in Illinois River

Three towboats and a barge sank in the Illinois River near Hardin, Ill., spilling an unknown quantity of diesel into the waterway. 

The three towboats, Chatty Sue Smith, Mary-R and Mary-Fern, and an unidentified deck barge owned and operated by Hex Stone sank at mile marker 20.7 on the morning of July 5. The four vessels were tied together. 

The vessels had roughly 4,850 gallons of diesel and heavy oils on board. Hex Stone hired an oil spill removal service to minimize the effect from pollution, with crews placing boom around the sunken vessels. The salvage operation lasted for 12 days. 

The Coast Guard is investigating the incident as a major marine casualty. The cause of the sinkings has not been determined.

Casualty flashback: July 1936

Fifteen mariners died when the 239-foot Material Service capsized and sank near Chicago’s South Side docks on July 29, 1936. 

The vessel, built in 1929 in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., was en route to Chicago with about 2,000 tons of sand and gravel when a large wave washed over the main deck. Water flooded into the cargo compartments and Material Service developed a pronounced list before rolling over. 

Many of the crew were still in their bunks at the time, and one account said the ship sank within one minute. At the time, it was just five minutes away from its destination in Calumet Harbor. 

The remains of the steam-powered, self-unloading barge can be found in Indiana waters some 39 feet below the surface of Lake Michigan. Images of the wreck show the hull remains mostly intact. 

Material Service Capt. Charlie D. Brown was among the sailors who went down with the vessel. 

For additional details about the wreck, and images of the vessel on the lake bed, visit

By Professional Mariner Staff