Maritime Casualty News, March 2016

Three dead after tug strikes Hudson River construction barge

Three mariners died after their tugboat struck a construction barge moored alongside the Tappan Zee Bridge and sank. The accident occurred at about 0520 on March 12 in the Hudson River north of New York City.

The construction barge was moored near the bridge for the ongoing project to replace the aging span that carries an interstate highway. Three people were aboard the tugboat Specialist, and on the day of the incident authorities recovered only one of the mariners’ remains. That man was identified as Paul Amon, 62, of Bayville, N.J.

Specialist and two other tugboats were escorting a crane barge from upstate New York to a New Jersey terminal when it struck a corner of the moored barge. Law enforcement officials said the 84-foot tugboat took on water, sank very quickly and was partially lodged under the construction barge.

First responders found one mariner’s body shortly after the accident, the Coast Guard said in a news release. The Coast Guard and a half-dozen local agencies helped search for the two missing mariners. One of the remaining crewmen was found the next day. The third was located inside the sunken tug, but his body was not immediately recovered.

Specialist sank with 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel, and authorities spotted a sheen where the vessel sank. The Coast Guard is investigating the accident.

Coast Guard crew swims to safety after response vessel capsizes, grounds

Five Coast Guard crewmembers swam to shore on New York’s Long Island after their 25-foot response boat capsized while responding to a distressed fishing vessel. The Coast Guard boat later grounded on the beach.

Crew from Coast Guard Station Jones Beach departed at about 0200 after receiving a distress call from the 76-foot scallop fishing vessel Carolina Queen III, according to a news release. The fishing vessel was taking on water and later ran aground near East Rockaway Inlet, east of New York City.

As the Coast Guard boat reached the inlet, it encountered 10- to 12-foot waves and capsized, the release said. The crewmembers received treatment on shore from local emergency technicians but were not injured.

A Coast Guard MH-65 helicopter from Station Atlantic City removed seven people from Carolina Queen III and carried them back to shore. Nobody aboard the fishing boat was hurt. The Coast Guard did not announce the causes of the incidents.

Fuel spill at lock closes Mississippi River near St. Louis

The Coast Guard closed a section of the Upper Mississippi River after a vessel spilled fuel into Lock and Dam 27, just north of St. Louis.

The towboat Gregory David was passing through the lock facility in the Chain of Rocks Canal when it apparently sustained damage. The impact ruptured a fuel tank containing up to 20,000 gallons. The fuel was contained within the lock, the Coast Guard said in a news release.

The agency did not release details on the extent of the damage or cause of the tank rupture. It was not clear if the vessel had barges in tow or if the vessel struck any part of the lock.

Cleanup operations within the lock lasted about a day. Authorities opened an auxiliary lock during the spill response to allow vessels to pass.

The roughly eight-mile Chain of Rocks canal was built to sidestep a rocky 17-mile section of the Mississippi River that was impassable during low water, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Construction started in 1946 and ended in 1953.

Historical casualty: March 1858

The 316-ton paddle-steamer Eliza Battle left Columbus, Miss., in late February 1858 en route for Mobile, Ala., on the Tombigbee River. The vessel, carrying around 200 people and more than 1,200 bales of cotton, never made it. The side-wheel steamer caught fire at about 0200 on March 1 south of Demopolis, and as many as 40 people died.

While ablaze, a strong wind carried the vessel to the riverbank, allowing some passengers to escape into surrounding treetops. Newspaper reports from the time suggested other passengers floated downriver atop cotton bales, with some yelling for help. Residents who heard those cries responded to the steamer and helped pull passengers to safety.

Most of the casualties stemmed from exposure to cold water, according to news reports. A list of casualties published in newspapers showed a wide range of victims, including men, women and children. Men and women said to “belong” to their slave-owners also perished in the fire.

The fire ignited cotton bales in the steamer’s cargo area and quickly spread to the rest of the vessel, but the cause was never determined. However, theories about its origins include sparks from a passing vessel earlier in the night or an errant cigar tossed by a passenger.

All of the vessel’s papers and luggage were destroyed, leading to speculation that the fire was intentionally set to cover up a safe robbery. The steamer, owned by Cox, Brainard and Co., was not insured, according to news reports.

Over the years, there have been claims of sightings of a burning steamship on the Tombigbee near Kemp’s Landing, where the Eliza Battle caught fire and sank. Local authors have written tales of a “ghost ship” based largely on these reports.

By Professional Mariner Staff