Sandy Hook pilot dies after fall while boarding oil tanker

Timothy Murray
The Coast Guard estimates that Capt. Timothy Murray fell 20 to 30 feet while boarding Eagle Turin, shown below, earlier this year in the Houston Ship Channel. Murray landed on the pilot boat America and was pronounced dead at a Staten Island hospital.

Sandy Hook pilot fell while boarding an oil tanker at the entrance to New York Harbor and later died at a Staten Island hospital. The incident, which occurred at about 2230 on Aug. 5, was the second fatality in eight months involving a member of the Sandy Hook Pilots Association.

Capt. Timothy Murray, 40, of Malverne, N.Y., was climbing aboard Eagle Turin when he fell off the pilot ladder. He landed on the pilot boat America, Coast Guard spokesman John Hightower said. The incident happened near the Ambrose Sea Buoy on the edge of New York Harbor. 

“The (Coast Guard) team is still in the early stages of investigation into this matter,” Hightower said in a phone interview. “Initial estimates indicate that the pilot fell from 20 to 30 feet from a straight pilot ladder.”

The Coast Guard expects the inquiry to continue for some time. The ongoing status limits what the service can disclose, Hightower said. 

The 807-foot Eagle Turin, registered in Singapore, was inbound to the Port of New York and New Jersey on the night of the incident. AIS data shows the ship was arriving from Whiffen Head in Newfoundland. 

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather buoy at Ambrose Light recorded average winds of 5 to 6 knots during the time frame when Murray fell, with 3- to 4-foot seas.

Murray1Crew aboard America issued a mayday call immediately after Murray fell. The Coast Guard responded with a boat from Station Sandy Hook, and it was joined by a New York Fire Department (FDNY) boat crew and city police helicopter. 

“FDNY transferred EMTs to provide CPR on the pilot vessel and escorted it to the Edgewater pier,” Hightower said, referring to a point on Staten Island. Shoreside paramedics then transferred Murray, who was in critical condition, to Staten Island University Hospital North Campus, where he was pronounced dead. 

The fatal incident was the second in less than a year involving a Sandy Hook pilot. Capt. Dennis Sherwood of Freehold Township, N.J., fell at about 0430 on Dec. 30, 2019, while climbing aboard the 982-foot containership Maersk Kensington. He also landed on the pilot boat that had taken him to the ship. 

Maersk Kensington had a combination pilot ladder and accommodation ladder, with a trap door in the platform where the ladders met. Sherwood’s fall has spurred new scrutiny of the arrangement from pilots groups, who have called for safety improvements from the International Maritime Organization (IMO). 

The Coast Guard has not released details from its investigation into the incident involving Sherwood. Highwater said Eagle Turin had a straight ladder rather than a combination embarkation arrangement.

Current safety guidance on pilot transfer arrangements, enforced by IMO member states and contained in SOLAS Chapter V, Regulation 23, entered into force in July 2012.

Since January 2015, the Coast Guard has investigated seven incidents involving pilot ladders. These incidents resulted in seven injuries and one fatality, according to Coast Guard spokeswoman Amy Midgett.

Sean Kline, director of maritime affairs for the Chamber of Shipping of America, told Professional Mariner after the Sherwood fatality that the group’s members are encouraged to inspect equipment and practice due diligence to prevent future accidents.

“Embarking a pilot is an extremely dangerous evolution, though it may appear as routine, because ships and pilots must conduct this evolution on a consistent basis, sometimes in the dark, wind, rain, snow, etc., with few other options.”

Murray is survived by his wife, Erin, and five children. He graduated from SUNY Maritime in 2002 and worked for Polar Tankers and Staten Island Ferry before joining the Sandy Hook Pilots in 2007. 

“He dedicated his professional life to preserving the integrity of the Sandy Hook Pilots Association in any way he could,” Murray’s obituary said. “But first and foremost, Tim was a big-hearted family man, always taking care of his wife, Erin — his first and only love — and their five children.”

By Professional Mariner Staff