Maritime Casualty News, September 2014

Coast Guard calls for action on air-draft-related accidents

Over the past 11 years, the U.S. Coast Guard has counted 205 air-draft-related accidents at bridges, including fixed, swing, lift and drawbridges. There have been several additional incidents in which vessels have struck power cables or other overhead objects.

As a result, the Coast Guard has issued a Safety Alert urging all owners and operators to ensure that they can transit overhead obstructions safely. That means always being aware of the vessel’s air draft and the vertical clearance available to sail under bridge spans and power cables.

“The consequences of failing to consider air draft and to properly calculate a vessel’s vertical clearance under bridges, power lines and other obstructions can be catastrophic,” the Coast Guard’s Inspections and Compliance Directorate said in this month’s alert.

Towing vessels and barges are the vessels most likely to be involved in such an accident. The most common problems are failure to lower cranes or to adjust spuds.

Federal regulations require owners and operators to ensure that the person controlling the vessel understands the constraints of the vessel and voyage, including tides, currents and other dangers. The person must understand the “general arrangement of the vessel” including air draft of the vessel and barges in tow.

The Coast Guard recommends that the officer uses real data, not assumptions.

To access the Coast Guard’s full Safety Alert, and to view past alerts, visit


NTSB publishes lessons learned from 21 marine casualties

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has published a 43-page booklet compiling lessons learned from marine casualties the agency investigated last year.

“Safer Seas 2013: Lessons Learned from Marine Accident Investigations” is intended to be an easy-to-read summary of investigation findings, with the goal of raising awareness of recurring risks in marine transportation.

“As many of these accident reports demonstrate, constant vigilance is critical to improving safety,” said Tracy Murrell, director of the NTSB’s Office of Marine Safety.

The publication includes a synopsis of 21 casualties. Incidents with fatal results include the lift boat Trinity II evacuation during a storm, and the fatal fire aboard the towing vessel Patrice McAllister. Other reports trace the root causes of various collisions, capsizings and fires involving cargo ships, tankers and towboats.

“If mariners are not constantly vigilant and if their organization’s culture does not reinforce their respect for marine safety, humans themselves can cause incidents, accidents and even tragedies,” Murrell said.

Summaries of each incident include a link to the NTSB’s full investigative report. “Safer Seas” is also available in e-book format.

“We hope that this document gives operators and others, such as safety professionals, an easy-to-use tool to find the circumstances closest to those they encounter in their own area of interest,” Murrell said.

To access a copy of the full “Safer Seas” document, or to search for Professional Mariner’s archived coverage of these casualties, visit


Biggest laker misses turn, runs aground in Duluth harbor

The longest Great Lakes freighter failed to negotiate a turn at a bridge and ran aground near the Duluth, Minn., shoreline.

The 1,014-foot Paul R. Tregurtha got stuck at about 1520 hours Sept. 20, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The bulk carrier was full of coal when it failed to accomplish the necessary turn at the Aerial Lift Bridge, Duluth’s port authority said. Instead of transiting the bridge, Paul R. Tregurtha nosed up against the shoreline at Bayfront Park.

The coal carrier was dislodged about four hours later by two tugboats. The Coast Guard is investigating the cause of the grounding.


Casualty flashback: September 1854

Sept. 27 is the 160th anniversary of the SS Arctic disaster, in which 350 lives were lost as a result of a collision off Newfoundland.

Aside from the great loss of life, the catastrophe is particularly noteworthy in that it was a missed opportunity to address multiple industry failings that would remain at issue into the 20th century and even today. One was the lack of permanent watertight bulkheads. A second was the problem of evacuation and inadequate lifeboat capacity. Another is the unwillingness of the crew to do its duty to preserve the lives of the passengers first.

Arctic was a U.S.-funded, New York-built paddle steamer en route from New York to Liverpool with more than 400 people aboard. On Sept. 27, 1854, the 284-foot Collins Line ship collided with the French iron-hulled ship SS Vesta off Cape Race. Holed below the waterline and lacking watertight bulkheads, the larger American ship sank four hours after the collision, which occurred in fog.

Arctic contained enough available lifeboats for only about 150 people, so most of the occupants were stranded aboard the stricken wreck. Although the capacity would have been enough to save all the women and children, male crewmembers and passengers hogged the available space for themselves. Some lifeboats were launched before they were full.

In the aftermath, victims’ families and New York newspaper called for a full investigation and for reforms including watertight bulkheads, adequate lifeboats and better-trained crew who would be more attentive to their duty in emergency evacuations. No investigation was initiated, and no one was punished for their actions.

The issue of adequate lifeboat capacity ultimately went unaddressed until after the RMS Titanic disaster six decades later.

Two small memorials pay tribute to the SS Arctic victims. One stands in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, N.Y. The other is next to the ship captain’s grave in Wareham, Mass., and honors his 11-year-old son, who died in the sinking. The captain had gone down with the ship but floated on a makeshift raft and was rescued. Although he survived, he never sailed again.

By Professional Mariner Staff