Maritime Casualty News, October 2016

Barge strikes Texas dock, spilling fuel

A barge under tow by the vessel Capt. Jim Green struck a dock in the Port Isabel Channel in Texas, allowing up to 5,000 gallons of low-sulfur diesel fuel to spill into the waterway, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The incident was reported at 2324 on Oct. 11. Watch standers received a report that the barge struck a dock in the Subsea 7 facility inside the channel. Inspectors initially thought about 20,000 gallons spilled from the unidentified barge, but estimates were later revised to 5,000 gallons.

“More than 2,500 gallons of diesel/water mix were recovered throughout the day (Oct. 12). Significant amounts of the diesel that could not be quickly recovered will not be recoverable due to the viscosity of the product,” the Coast Guard said, adding that there were no immediate impacts on wildlife.

Capt. Jim Green is a 1,600-hp pushboat operated by Kirby Inland Marine of Houston. The barge involved in the accident was not named. The Coast Guard is investigating the incident.

Barges break away during Hurricane Matthew

Two construction barges moored alongside bridges broke free during Hurricane Matthew and ran aground near Hatteras Island, N.C., the Coast Guard said.

One barge carrying about 300 gallons of diesel and 100 gallons of lube oil grounded near two waterfront homes in Avon, N.C., a coastal community on Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks. Authorities evacuated both properties as a precaution.

The second barge drifted in Pamlico Sound between the mainland and the Outer Banks before grounding about seven miles south of where the other barge landed, according to the Coast Guard. It was carrying about 200 gallons of diesel and 300 gallons of lube oil.

The Coast Guard conducted flights over the barges and determined there was no pollution as a result of either grounding. Local authorities and the Coast Guard worked with responsible party PCL Construction to salvage the vessels.

Safety alert urges caution, planning with unusual tows

The Coast Guard is urging towing companies and vessel operators to use caution and careful planning when towing drilling rigs and other unusual cargo — particularly when traveling through storms or rough waters.

The alert issued in early October follows an August incident in which the 17,000-ton semi-submersible drilling rig Transocean Winter broke free from the towing vessel Alp Forward during bad weather and ran hard aground near the Isle of Lewis, Scotland. The vessels were en route from Norway to Malta.

The Coast Guard said that incident, under investigation by British authorities, appears similar to a December 2012 incident off Alaska. In that case, the conical drilling unit Kulluk broke free from the tug Aiviq and drifted for four days before grounding on Sitkalidak Island.

The Towing Safety Advisory Committee reviewed the Kulluk mishap and considered best practices when towing mobile offshore drilling units. Its recommendations were finalized earlier this year. 

The committee’s report discusses numerous topics, including voyage and vessel planning, methods of determining safe towing operations, a technical review of towing gear and information for the tug and tow master.

“These recommendations, together with the content from other sections of the report, collectively serve as an overview of best practices for high-risk towing operations,” the Coast Guard safety alert said.

The safety alert can be viewed here:

The towing safety report can be viewed here:

Coast Guard recommends routine life jacket checks

The Coast Guard has issued a safety alert urging routine maintenance of inflatable life jackets to make sure they work during emergencies. The agency said mariners have died when life jackets failed to inflate as expected.

“When a life jacket fails to inflate properly, the results can be life threatening. Unknown bladder leaks may exist, fabric degradation or an improperly installed CO2 cylinder is all it takes to render an inflatable life jacket ineffective by preventing its inflation or ability to stay inflated,” the alert said.

Before each voyage, the Coast Guard recommends making sure the service indicator on each jacket is green and checking for any visible signs of wear. Components on auto-inflating jackets should be armed and unexpired.

When in doubt, or as instructed by the manufacturer, life jackets should be inflated using an oral tube and left overnight in a room with constant temperature to check for pressure loss. When deflating life jackets following these tests, never twist or wring the life jacket.

To read the full alert, visit

Casualty flashback: October 1961

The T2 tanker Hess Mariner was sailing to Perth Amboy, N.J., from Houston when it sustained a catastrophic engine failure roughly 100 miles off the Georgia coast on Oct. 1, 1961. The vessel took on water and sank, although all 38 crewmembers made it off safely.

The Coast Guard’s Marine Board of Investigation determined the 504-foot ship’s main turbine generator disintegrated during transit at about 1948 on Oct. 1, and fragments damaged the condenser and turbine. The engine room and nearby spaces soon began taking on water.

Shortly before the engine malfunction, the assistant second engineer then on watch heard the turbo generator suddenly accelerate, the report said. He shifted the controls to idle, but it continued to accelerate. The assistant engineer and an oiler both pulled an emergency turbine trip but the engine continued to run.

Coast Guard investigators determined the “failure of the speed control system and the overspeed system allowed the main turbine to overspeed to the point of destruction.” They could not determine what caused the sea valves to fail, allowing water to flood into the engine room.

As the water level rose on the stricken tanker, the crew abandoned ship at about 0230 on Oct. 2. The vessel split in half seven hours later and sank in about 600 feet of water, the report said. Crewmembers were rescued by the vessels SS Texaco Nevada and Esso Suez.

By Professional Mariner Staff