Maritime Casualty News, September 2017

Coast Guard, NTSB investigators to release El Faro reports

It’s been almost two years since El Faro sank off the Bahamas, leaving 28 U.S. mariners and five Polish technicians dead. By Christmas, families of the victims should have a better understanding of what caused the accident.

The U.S. Coast Guard announced this week it will release its Marine Board of Investigation report on Oct. 1. Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has scheduled a hearing for Dec. 12 in Washington, D.C., to determine the probable cause of the accident.

The 790-foot roll-on/roll-off cargo ship was near the eye of Hurricane Joaquin when it sank in roughly 15,000 feet of water on Oct. 1, 2015.

Authorities found the ship’s wreckage about a month after the accident, and its voyage data recorder was discovered in August 2016. The NTSB released the 500-page VDR transcript in December covering the ship’s final 26 hours at sea.

“In addition to determining the probable cause of the sinking and any factors that may have contributed to the accident, the board is expected to vote on recommendations to address safety issues uncovered during the investigation,” the NTSB said in a prepared statement.

The Coast Guard held three rounds of hearings in Jacksonville, Fla., during the course of the Marine Board of Investigation’s inquest. It has conducted an investigation separate from the NTSB’s inquiry.

The NTSB hearing is open to the public and media. The meeting also will be streamed live at Check for an update on the Coast Guard report on Oct. 1.

St. Lawrence tug catches fire after mechanical problem

Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) is investigating a tugboat fire near Port Cartier, Quebec, on the St. Lawrence River.

The 99-foot Brochu sustained a mechanical failure followed by a fire in the engine room while towing the bulk carrier AM Tubarao at about 0435 on Sept. 15. TSB Regional Senior Investigator Melissa St-Jean said the tug returned to port under its own power, where firefighters extinguished the fire.

The cause remains under investigation, and St-Jean said it was too soon to share details about the crew’s response to the fire. Overall damage to the 3,600-hp tugboat also was not yet available.

St-Jean said the investigation team examined the vessel, photographed key components and interviewed witnesses and company personnel. However, the investigation is “still in the data collection phase.”

European steel giant ArcelorMittal owns the 44-year-old tugboat. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Towboat sinks in Lower Mississippi fleeting area

The U.S. Coast Guard and an oil response organization mobilized after a towboat sank at a Lower Mississippi River fleeting area with 2,000 gallons of diesel on board.

The uninspected towing vessel Miss Pat partially sank in Lake Ferguson near Greenville, Miss., on Sept. 24 while in a barge fleeting area. The tug’s bow remained above the waterline. The incident occurred at 2236 near mile marker 538. The crew abandoned the towboat and no one was injured, the Coast Guard said.

Response teams laid boom around the vessel and no pollution was reported, according to the Coast Guard. Investigators are still trying to determine why the vessel sank.

Tanker grounds near Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

The Panama-flagged tanker Kamome Victoria received approval to leave New York late last month after grounding near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

The 748-foot ship left the channel at about 1715 on Aug. 28 and grounded roughly five miles south of the bridge, which links Brooklyn and Staten Island. No one was injured and there was no pollution from the accident, the Coast Guard said.

The vessel passed a Coast Guard inspection after refloating with the tide and left the city a day after the grounding. Authorities are still trying to determine the cause of the accident.

Casualty flashback: September 1951

Sixty-two passengers and two crew boarded the 42-foot wooden passenger vessel Pelican on the morning of Sept. 1, 1951, for a fishing excursion off Long Island, N.Y. By 1500, the vessel had rolled over in heavy winds and most of the passengers were dead.

The Coast Guard later determined the 200-hp twin-screw vessel could safely carry about one-third that many people in offshore waters.

“By any standard, Pelican was overloaded,” the Coast Guard said in its accident report, noting that the captain bore responsibility for passenger counts. The report also cited the captain’s poor judgment given the widely available weather reports suggesting poor conditions offshore.

The captain, had he survived, likely would have faced civil or criminal action for negligence, the report said. Also of note, according to the report only one passenger was wearing a life jacket. That person was rescued.

Pelican left its Montauk, N.Y., pier at 0830 that morning and sailed for about 90 minutes before reaching its destination. The vessel turned around and headed for shore after an hour due to worsening weather conditions. Facing 30-knot winds, the vessel covered only six miles over the next 2.5 hours, and it is not clear whether the port engine was operational.

As the vessel rounded Montauk Point, its starboard quarter was to the wind. Passengers moved to the port side for shelter, causing a list. Two successive waves finally pushed the vessel over roughly one nautical mile offshore.

Good Samaritan vessels rescued 18 people from the water, and a Coast Guard vessel removed one more. Forty-four passengers and the captain died.

By Professional Mariner Staff