Maritime Casualty News, July 2020

Camera recording shows ships colliding on Welland Canal

Canadian authorities are investigating a collision on the Welland Canal involving two bulk carriers. The slow-speed collision was caught on camera and shared extensively on social media. 

The upbound bulker Alanis and downbound Florence Spirit collided nearly head-on July 11 at about 1555, at canal mile 15. No one on either ship was injured and no pollution was reported. 

It’s still not clear what caused the collision. Transport Canada and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada are investigating.

Both ships sustained hull damage at the bow above the waterline. The 453-foot Alanis was inbound to Duluth, Minn., with wind turbine parts. The 446-foot Florence Spirit was loaded with coal and headed for Quebec City. 

Editor’s note: Check the September edition of Professional Mariner magazine for more details on this casualty. 

NTSB: Infrequent monitoring led to multi-vessel sinking

Three tugboats that sank at their mooring on the Illinois River last summer were pulled under when a barge to which they were tied flooded and sank. 

Local officials responded to the Jersey County Grain Co. facility in Hardin, Ill., at about 0700 on July 5, 2019, where the vessels were moored. A passing towboat noticed the sinking vessels and called the sheriff’s office, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said. 

The towboats Chattie Sue Smith, Mary Fern, Mary-R and the unnamed deck barge sank at mile 20.7 at a mooring cell alongside the grain facility. Employees with Hex Stone, which owned the vessels, moved the towboat Teddi B. before it went under.

No one was on board any of the vessels when they began sinking. About 2,800 gallons of diesel escaped into the river, although much was later recovered. 

Hex Stone employees visited the moored vessels on July 1, at which time the barge was pumped out. No one from the company returned until the morning of the sinking. There were two automatic submersible pumps on the barge outfitted with float switches, one of which was later found not to be working. 

According to the NTSB, the probable cause of the incident “was the deteriorated condition of the barge and the infrequent monitoring of the vessels, which allowed the barge to flood and sink, ultimately pulling down the moored towing vessels.”

The full report can be found here.

Casualty flashback: July 1942

SS Robert E. Lee was built in 1924 to carry passengers for Eastern Steamship Lines. In 1942, Alcoa Steamship Co. chartered the ship to the U.S. government for wartime service, where it ultimately met its demise. 

The 373-foot vessel was underway to New Orleans with a U.S. Navy escort ship when the German submarine U-166 struck it with a torpedo on July 30, 1942. The attack seriously damaged SS Robert E. Lee’s engine and steering systems. It was roughly 50 miles from Venice, La., with 407 crewmembers and passengers aboard. 

The ship listed to starboard and sank at the stern within about 15 minutes. Military and civilian vessels responded and ultimately rescued nearly everyone on board, but 15 passengers and 10 crew died. Some of the surviving passengers had been rescued from previous U-boat attacks.

SS Robert E. Lee’s naval escort, the sub chaser PC-566, launched depth charges at the German vessel. Crews spotted an oil sheen but no other evidence of a hit on the U-boat.

Exploration tied to the oil and gas industry led to the discovery of both wrecks. SS Robert E. Lee was found in 1986, and 15 years later survey crews found U-166 about a mile away. It confirmed that PC-566 sank the German sub.

By Professional Mariner Staff