Watertight door closes automatically when power is cut. The captain of Cape May Light apparently was pinned as he attempted to leave the engine room.
Charles P. Beverly, 43, the master of Cape May Light, died from compression asphyxiation, according to the medical examiner.
A week earlier, American Classic Voyages Co., the largest U.S.-flagged cruise line and the owner of the 286-foot, 224-passenger vessel, had filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The company was in the process of mothballing the ship as a result of its financial problems.
Cape May Light had sailed from Jacksonville, Fla., to a berth at Sun State Marine in Green Cove Springs, Fla. A crew of three, including Beverly, was aboard for the lay-up. The other two held managerial positions in the company but were not regular members of the ship’s crew.
According to Coast Guard reports, Beverly and one other person had been working in the engine room securing various systems. Their tasks included shutting down the ship’s power and disconnecting battery terminals. The third person was on an upper deck when the accident occurred.
In a statement to the Coast Guard, the crewmember who had been with Beverly said that he left the engine room first, through the forward bulkhead door, leaving Beverly alone to disconnect the vessel’s batteries. Once the battery terminals were disconnected, Beverly was to make his way forward, flashlight in hand, through the same forward bulkhead, which was equipped with an automatic closing device.
The door is designed to shut automatically when the ship’s power is cut. The quick-closing mechanized door travels on a sliding track and is driven by a hydraulically operated ram system. The closing door exerts between 1,500 and 2,000 lbs of pressure per square inch.
Not long after Beverly cut the power, the other crewmember heard his cry for help. Although the case is still under investigation, Beverly apparently did not make it through the bulkhead quickly enough and was trapped by the closing door.
Because of the way Beverly was trapped, he was unable to reach either of the deactivation levers on the inner and outer bulkheads.
According to Lt. Kevin Ivy, senior investigating officer in the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Office, Jacksonville, fatigue and unfamiliarity with the engine room are being considered as factors in the accident.
The workday for the men began at 0600 that day. The accident occurred about nine hours later, between 1500 and 1530. Ivy noted that Beverly might have been fatigued, since mid-afternoon corresponds to a low-energy period in the human body’s daily rhythm.
As the ship’s master, Beverly might have been unfamiliar with the engine-room layout. That might have slowed his exit, especially in the dark.
The Coast Guard said that the door had not malfunctioned and that it deployed properly after Beverly’s body was extricated.
The medical examiner’s tests of Beverly proved negative for drugs and alcohol. The two other crewmembers also tested negative. The Coast Guard and the Clay County Sheriff’s Office are continuing their investigation of the accident.