Maritime Casualty News, March 2019

Captain missing, presumed dead after towboat capsizes

The captain of Seattle Slew is missing and presumed dead after the towboat capsized and sank in the Lower Mississippi River near mile marker 55. Two other crewmembers were rescued from the water by a good Samaritan towboat.

The incident occurred March 18 at about 2000 near a fleeting area north of Pointe a la Hache, La. The Coast Guard has said little about the incident, although in a safety alert issued March 27 it suggested that the 54-foot vessel may have become caught abreast to the current.

Federal, state and local authorities spent nearly 18 hours searching the river by air and water for the missing crewman, but his body was not recovered. The Lower Mississippi River has been running high and fast for weeks due to spring snowmelt and a series of powerful storms.

Safety alert urges caution during high, fast water

The U.S. Coast Guard is urging caution when operating in high water on inland waterways, particularly when traveling abeam to the current.

In a safety alert issued March 27, the agency noted similarities between three recent casualties on the Lower Mississippi River where vessels became pinned against another object and could not recover. The vessels became exposed to the current after getting stuck.

"The high water conditions on the Mississippi River present numerous risks for towing vessels, including unusually strong river currents and dynamic eddies," the report said, noting that currents vary from one river section to another. “Therefore it is absolutely essential that vessel operators provide a wide berth when maneuvering around any other vessel or object."

Specifically, the Coast Guard “strongly urges” operators not to travel between stationary objects such as anchored ships or barge fleets. It also recommends minimizing situations that would require a vessel going beam-to the current.

The safety alert can be read in its entirely here.

Bulk carriers damaged in Vancouver Harbor collision

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) is investigating a collision involving two bulk carriers in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The agency said 751-foot Marshall Islands-flagged Caravos Harmony and 954-foot Panama-flagged Pan Acacia collided March 17 at about 0020. Local media reported Caravos Harmony lost power before striking the other ship, which was waiting to load coal.

Caravos Harmony reportedly sustained damage to its bow, while Pan Acacia required repairs for a hole on its port side above the waterline. No one on either ship was injured and no pollution was reported.

The cause of the incident remains under investigation, and the TSB declined to comment on the ongoing inquiry. Additional details were not immediately available.

Casualty flashback: March 1946

The former World War II T-2 tanker Sackett’s Harbor was sailing from Japan to the Panama Canal when it encountered a strong storm on March 1, 1946. The steamship broke apart about 800 miles southwest of Adak Island in the Aleutians with 10 crew stranded on the bow section.

The U.S. Navy frigate USS Orlando ultimately rescued the crewmen and sank the bow with cannon shots. The frigate brought the men back to the stern section, which was still afloat and under power. The crew managed to sail the stricken ship to Adak Island. Two cats were the only casualties in the incident.

The story of Sackett’s Harbor does not end there. The stern section was later towed to Anchorage, which at the time had only about 10,000 residents. The ship’s electric drive ended up providing about half of the growing city’s electricity between 1946 and 1955.

Sackett’s Harbor was later rebuilt and was renamed SS Angelo Petri in 1955, when it began carrying wine from California to the U.S. East Coast through the Panama Canal. The ship later took on other names before it was scrapped in 1978.

By Professional Mariner Staff