Maritime Casualty News, September 2015

Oil spills after Mississippi River towboat collision

A barge carrying slurry oil broke open after two towboats collided on the Mississippi River near Paducah, Ky., discharging as much as 250,000 gallons into the waterway.

The accident occurred at about 2022 on Sept. 2 near mile marker 937, the Coast Guard said. Authorities set up a safety zone around the accident area, blocking traffic on the river for more than a day.

The Coast Guard did not identify the two vessels involved in the accident. The accident remains under investigation.

Officials created 24 grids to search for oil and document the cleanup progress. Crews used sonar to identify and remove oil from the river and underlying sediment. Cleanup efforts were ongoing as of Sept. 16.

“Re-assessment of these areas by side-scan sonar will determine if the end point recovery criteria for pollution has been met. Hydrocarbon sampling of the water column and sediment will continue throughout these recovery operations,” the Coast Guard said in a news release.

The Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the cause of the accident.

25 barges break away near Vicksburg

Twenty-five barges carrying grain and corn broke away from their tow on the Mississippi River near Vicksburg, Miss., and the Coast Guard temporarily closed a 10-mile section of river for recovery.

The breakaway was reported at about 2320 on Sept. 10. The vessel involved in the incident was not released. Nobody was hurt and there was no pollution.

Authorities closed the river from mile marker 469 to mile marker 459. Vessels were allowed to pass through the safety zone on Sept. 12.

The incident is under investigation.

Safety alert: Seamanship skills a must

The U.S. Coast Guard has issued a safety alert urging special-purpose vessels to ensure operators have basic seamanship skills.

The Sept. 8 alert followed a recent incident on the Lower Mississippi River in which two pollution response vessels collided at high speeds, injuring at least 15 passengers. According to investigators, the southbound vessel moved to starboard to avoid the oncoming vessel, while the northbound vessel turned to port just before the accident.

The 30-foot vessel traveling north with 17 passengers was operated by someone who was not licensed and not familiar with the Inland Rules of the Road, the alert said. Two people were aboard the 36-foot vessel traveling south, including an operator with a license. Neither vessel was using radar or posted a lookout.

“Witnesses reported that the southbound vessel did not have its bow lights illuminated and it was determined that the northbound operator had never taken a formal boating safety course,” the alert said.

“The incident could have been much worse as accident investigators noted that there would likely have been numerous fatalities if the angle of impact been slightly different,” the alert continued.

Companies that operate special-purpose vessels without licensed mariners are urged to have staff take a boating safety course and learn the Inland Rules of the Road. The Coast Guard urges the companies to look carefully at the safety of company employees and others who ride on company boats.  

Casualty flashback: September 1949

The 362-foot SS Noronic was midway through a weeklong Lake Ontario cruise with 524 passengers and 171 crew when a fire broke out at about 0230 on Sept. 14, 1949. The blaze quickly spread, and 139 passengers died in the accident.

The vessel known as "Queen of the Lakes" was docked in Toronto when a passenger smelled smoke in a closet. Flames started spreading throughout the cabin after a crewmember opened the door.

Panic ensued after the alarm sounded as passengers rushed from staterooms to escape the burning ship. Although some crew, including the captain, made heroic efforts to rescue trapped and sleeping passengers, others reportedly did little or nothing to help.

Some passengers jumped into the water and climbed down ropes to escape the burning ship.

The vessel ultimately sank at its berth and was later scrapped.

Investigators determined the oiled wood walls allowed the fire to spread, and the vessel’s firefighting equipment was mostly non-functioning. A lack of exits prevented some passengers from escaping.

The cause of the fire was never confirmed. Theories ranged from deliberate arson to a misplaced cigarette butt by a ship employee.

By Professional Mariner Staff