Maritime Casualty News, June 2019

Crane on barge hits lines in Virginia, knocks out power

A crane loaded on a barge clipped several high-voltage power lines over the Elizabeth River near Norfolk, Va., bringing down three wires and disrupting marine traffic for nearly a day. More than 20,000 electrical customers also lost power.

The 900-hp tugboat Goose Creek was pushing the barge south when the crane hit the overhead lines, owned by Dominion Energy, at about noon on June 20. The Coast Guard closed the section of the Elizabeth River between the Gilmerton Bridge and High Rise Bridge for about a day while Dominion removed the lines. A spokesman for the power company said the lines have been replaced.

Attempts to reach Ireland Marine Transportation of Chesapeake, Va., owner of Goose Creek, were not successful. The Coast Guard did not identify the barge name, its owner or the height of the crane. The cause of the incident is under investigation.

Columbia River grounding blamed on steering failure

A 738-foot bulk carrier grounded in the Columbia River east of Astoria, Ore., apparently after a steering system failure.

The Malta-flagged Gorgoypikoos ran soft aground on Miller Sands on June 2. The vessel was making about 10 knots when the steering control system malfunctioned, the Coast Guard said.

Levi Read, spokesman for Coast Guard Sector Portland, declined to elaborate, citing the ongoing investigation. None of the 21 crew were injured and there was no pollution. The ship was loaded with grain and 318,000 gallons of fuel. 

The bulker refloated with high tide on June 3 as three assist tugboats were underway to help remove it. After coming free, Gorgoypikoos sailed to its destination in Longview, Wash.

Alaska fuel barge stuck in mud shows ‘structural stress’

A fuel barge that became stuck in mud during low tide near Naknek, Alaska, showed signs of “structural stress,” according to the Coast Guard.

The vessel, Crowley Maritime’s BC-152, was offloading petroleum on the Naknek River when it became stuck on June 18. That same day, crew aboard the vessel reported signs of structural issues, including a cracked check valve.

BC-152 was loaded with about 50,000 gallons of gasoline and nearly 100,000 gallons of diesel at the time. None of the product reached the waterway, located in southwestern Alaska.

"This barge did not run aground, but became stuck in the mud during low tide … as it was offloading product," said Lt. James Nunez, incident management division chief for Coast Guard Sector Anchorage.

"Our job is to ensure the potential for pollution in this situation is mitigated,” he added. “We will continue to stand by on site until the product is offloaded and we are satisfied that there is no longer a threat. Protecting the environment is our top priority."

The Coast Guard dispatched a team to assess the situation and oversee the barge’s removal.

Casualty flashback: June 1947

Many mariners have heard of Ourang Medan, which is one of the great maritime mysteries. But what happened to the ship’s crew, and whether the vessel ever existed, remain the subject of intense debate. 

The best-known accounts suggest a crewman aboard the Dutch ship made an urgent Morse code request for help in the Straits of Malacca. The message claimed the rest of the crew was dead and that the sender himself was also injured. By whom, or what, was never discussed.

The U.S. ship Silver Star was reportedly among the vessels that heard the distress call. It diverted to Ourang Medan’s location, and some American sailors boarded the vessel. According to lore, they found the crew dead and their faces frozen in grotesque grimaces.

Silver Star reportedly established a towline, but Ourang Medan exploded before the vessels got underway. Its wreckage has never been found.

What happened to the crew? Speculation includes everything from carbon monoxide poisoning to exposure to a cargo of chemicals or even secret military substances used in chemical or biological warfare. Others have suggested pirates or even extraterrestrial intervention. 

But did the ship even exist? There is some debate whether the distress call happened in June 1947, February 1948 or as early as 1940. Researchers also have scoured ship registries and found no mention in Lloyd’s Shipping Register. There isn’t even complete certainty Silver Star ever existed or was involved in any rescue effort.

That said, the story has been cited in credible accounts over the years, including once in the 1950s by the Coast Guard. For some, the mysterious circumstances suggest a government cover-up. Others suggest it means the story itself is bogus, or at the very least exaggerated. 

We’ll probably never know the answer. But it makes for a great story.

By Professional Mariner Staff