Maritime Casualty News, June 2017

Safety alert warns of fuel spray fires

The U.S. Coast Guard is again warning operators to be aware of potential fuel spray fires following a recent incident aboard an offshore supply vessel. Nobody was injured in the accident, but the ship’s engine room sustained significant damage.

“These types of incidents, involving fuel leaks contacting hot surfaces and igniting, happen too frequently and have been a focus of various marine safety organizations such as the IMO for many years,” the Coast Guard said in the June 6 alert.

In the recent incident with the OSV, a flexible fuel hose connected to the fuel filter assembly ruptured, likely due to its proximity to the nearby turbocharger. Shortly before the fire, crew investigated a low fuel pressure alarm in the engine room and noticed fuel spraying “all over” the turbocharger. The captain went down to investigate and was present when the fuel ignited.

“Using a hand-held portable fire extinguisher he quickly attempted to extinguish the fire without success,” the alert said. “The master activated the general alarm, secured the hatches, had crewmembers secure the ventilation dampers and closed the remote fuel shutoff valves to the engine room. The fire then quickly self-extinguished.”

Despite its proximity to the turbocharger, which can get very hot, the fuel filter assembly complied with the engine manufacturer’s guidance. After the fire, the vessel operator moved the fuel filter assembly from the inboard to outboard side of its engines in similar vessels in the fleet.

The Coast Guard has issued a handful of similar safety alerts in recent years. The service urges crew and operators to inspect unmanned engine rooms at least once a day and inspect fuel and lubricating systems closely across the entire system.

The alert also urges operators to make sure insulation systems and spray shielding are working as designed. Where possible, the use of non-metallic hoses carrying flammable liquids should be minimized, particularly around hot engine areas.

To read the full alert, visit

Tanker hits recreational boat near Detroit

A loaded tanker hit a disabled recreational boat in Lake St. Clair, north of Detroit, Mich., destroying the smaller craft and leaving its operator clinging to a buoy until rescue crews arrived.

Crew aboard the 406-foot Esta Desgagnes reported the collision with the 15-foot powerboat on the morning of June 4. The Canadian-flagged tanker was southbound roughly 1.5 miles north of the Detroit River entrance when the incident occurred.

The impact severely damaged the powerboat, which sank outside the channel. The lone person on board, an unidentified man, swam to a nearby buoy. Coast Guard crews from Station St. Clair Shores rescued him shortly afterward.

After the accident, the Coast Guard warned boaters to steer well clear of underway cargo vessels, which have limited maneuverability inside navigation channels.

“We were relieved to be able to recover the small-boat operator unharmed,” Lt. Ben Chamberlain, a command duty officer for Coast Guard Sector Detroit, said in a news release. “It is our hope that recreational boaters will maintain situational awareness to avoid these kinds of scenarios when enjoying the beauty of the Great Lakes.”

Groupe Desgagnes of Quebec City operates Esta Desgagnes, which can hold about 68,000 barrels of cargo. The company declined to comment on the accident.

17 transferred from grounded schooner

A 91-year-old schooner that operates from Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard ran aground near the mouth of the Mystic River in Connecticut. The vessel had 17 passengers and five crew on board.

The 126-foot Alabama became stuck just off the mouth of the river near Mystic, Conn., at about 1815 on June 18. The Coast Guard dispatched a crew from Station New London and transferred the 17 passengers off the schooner. No one was injured and there was no pollution from the accident.

Alabama, which grounded in a similar location about seven years ago, was refloated with the help of a tugboat. It was taken to a nearby shipyard for a Coast Guard inspection. The cause of the accident is under investigation.

Alabama was built in 1926 for the Mobile (Ala.) Bar Pilots using a design favored for Gloucester, Mass., fishing schooners. The ship carried pilots until its retirement in 1966, according to Black Dog Tall Ships, which operates the vessel. After undergoing an extensive retrofit, Alabama began its second life as an excursion vessel in the mid-1990s.

Casualty flashback: June 1930

The 208-foot Pinthis was navigating through dense fog on June 10, 1930, when it collided with the passenger vessel Fairfax roughly six miles east of Marshfield, Mass. The tanker exploded, killing its 19-member crew. Twenty-eight people aboard Fairfax also died.

The incident is believed to be the deadliest maritime disaster in Massachusetts Bay, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Pinthis was carrying about 1,100 barrels of oil under lease to Shell Oil when Fairfax slammed into its starboard side. The 11-year-old tanker’s cargo ignited in a series of explosions. Flames also reached passengers aboard Fairfax, according to a report on the state agency’s website.

“Attempting to put out the flames, the Fairfax passengers caught in the explosion jumped into the ocean with or without life jackets, only to be burned to death by the flaming oil on the water’s surface,” according to the agency.

The tanker sank within 20 minutes and came to rest 84 feet below the sea surface. Its remains are now a popular site for divers.

By Professional Mariner Staff