Maritime Casualty News, May 2016

Coast Guard warns of hazardous smoke signal

The Coast Guard has removed its stamp of approval from a brand of hand-held smoke signals that can combust when dropped.

In a safety alert published May 19, the agency said it has withdrawn approval of the Nammo LIAB AB orange smoke hand distress signal after the company changed its chemical composition in October 2013. This change was not reported to the Coast Guard “and the signal that was manufactured is at risk of spontaneous combustion when dropped,” the alert said.

Datrex Inc. of Kinder, La., was the lone U.S. distributor for this product. There are up to 2,790 signals in the U.S. with the potential defect, according to the Coast Guard.

“Datrex has removed all of its remaining stock from sale and is working with customers to replace these potentially dangerous signals,” the alert said. “Any signal manufactured after October 2013 must be properly disposed of and replaced with a product that satisfies the vessel’s carriage requirements.”

To read this alert and others published by the Coast Guard, visit​

NTSB: Communication lapse led to collision in Houston Ship Channel

Federal investigators say a communication lapse between two pilots caused a collision between two large ships in the Houston Ship Channel. 

The accident involving the 445-foot tanker Chembulk Houston and 892-foot containership Monte Alegre occurred at about 1334 local time on March 5, 2015. Chembulk was overtaking the box ship when its starboard side ran into Monte Alegre's port-side hull, according to the National Transportation Safety Board report. The vessels remained in contact as they left the main channel and grounded near light No. 39. 

Pilots aboard the two inbound ships made arrangements for Chembulk to overtake Monte Alegre. As Chembulk's bow overtook the other vessel's stern, the pilot aboard Monte Alegre increased speed from 6.7 knots to 8.7 knots in just two minutes. The pilot aboard Chembulk later attempted to abort the pass, during which time the vessels collided. 

Authorities determined the Monte Alegre pilot's decision to speed up was a critical factor in the incident. 

"The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the collision between the Chembulk Houston and the Monte Alegre was the pilot’s decision to increase speed on the Monte Alegre without informing the deputy pilot on the overtaking Chembulk Houston," the report said. 

Both vessels sustained extensive damage from the accident. The NTSB report showed $729,600 in damage to Chembulk Houston and $997,700 in damage to Monte Alegre

Crewman dies after tug rollover

A crewman disappeared and was later found dead after his tugboat capsized in the San Jacinto River in Houston.

Ricky J Leboeuf flipped near a barge fleeting area on the river at about 0744 on April 19. Five workers aboard the vessel went overboard when it capsized. Four were rescued soon afterward, the Coast Guard said in a news release.

Local authorities and the Coast Guard searched for the missing man, whose body was found several hundred feet downstream at about 0945 the same morning. Crews aboard a Coast Guard helicopter spotted the man’s body from the air, the release said.

The Coast Guard did not identify the deceased worker.

A video of the incident shows the tug flipping onto its starboard side in a matter of seconds, apparently while passing a fleet of tank barges. Authorities restricted vessel traffic on the waterway shortly after the accident, and a Coast Guard pollution team responded to determine environmental impacts.

The Coast Guard is investigating the incident to determine the cause.

To view a video of the accident, visit

Casualty flashback: May 1911

SS Merida left Havana, Cuba, in early May 1911 with 319 people aboard. The vessel was sailing north for New York City when the steamer Admiral Farragut rammed it in dense fog off the Virginia coast at about 0030 on May 12.

The 400-foot Ward Line ship Merida sank within six hours, according to news reports of the accident. All 188 passengers — many fleeing the Mexican Civil War with gold and other valuables — and 131 crew were rescued by crew from Admiral Farragut.

Passengers and crew from the stricken ship later boarded another steamship, Hamilton, which responded to Admiral Farragut’s wireless distress call. Hamilton ferried the group to Norfolk. The U.S. warship Iowa also responded to calls for help.

Admiral Farragut struck the steamer bow-first. The impact tore a hole in its port bow while Merida sustained a hole in its starboard side, according to news reports. The impact damaged Merida’s engines and rendered its wireless communications system inoperable. Its electrical system went out, leaving the ship in total darkness.

It’s not clear if the Coast Guard or another U.S. government agency established a definitive cause of the accident. A report on the 105-year-old incident could not be found.

Treasure hunters have long explored the ship’s wreckage, some 55 miles off Cape Charles, in search of gold, silver and precious gems said to be on board. But according to a recent report in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, search crews have largely failed to find any valuables.

By Professional Mariner Staff