Storm-tossed galley gear kills captain

Russel W. Peterson came ashore at Rehoboth Beach, Del. The research vessel, a former lift boat, is equipped with three spuds. The vessel’s distress may have begun when one of those spuds snapped off during the storm. One of the boat’s two engines also failed. [photo courtesy Robert J. Lewis]

One of the two captains of the lift boat Russell W. Peterson was killed May 12 when the vessel foundered in heavy seas 14 miles off the coast of Rehoboth Beach, Del.

The stern leg of the three-legged vessel may have snapped off during the storm, the Coast Guard said. Capt. John Moyse was killed when heavy objects in the galley were torn free and struck him. The other captain, in the wheelhouse at the time, escaped injury and was rescued from the vessel.

The 28-year old vessel had a history of problems. “It had some maintenance issues in the past including handling of corrosion, cracking and structure shortfalls,†said Mike Kaszuba, a Philadelphia-based civilian Coast Guard investigator assigned to the case.

The 58-foot lift boat was owned by Aqua Survey, of Flemington, N.J. The company purchased the 90-gross-ton boat about four months earlier. The vessel was working for Bluewater Wind LLC. The lift boat was charting bird movements as a part of due diligence for the construction of a 150-turbine offshore wind farm to generate electricity.

Both Aqua Survey and Bluewater Wind declined comment.

Russell W. Peterson, named after an ex-governor of Delaware, was formerly Wolverine. It was built before the Coast Guard inspected such vessels. Now they are considered just like any other OSV, and inspections are mandatory. In July 2007, the vessel received two enforcement warnings because of a non-casualty investigation in Morgan City, La.

Russell W. Peterson was later opted out of lift boat regulations because it was operating as a research vessel. All other lift boats have to follow certain manning requirements. “Lift boats definitely need a master and two deck hands, “ Kaszuba said.

Only the two captains were aboard Peterson when the storm hit.

The Coast Guard station in Atlantic City, N.J., received a distress call at 0755 indicating the ship was breaking up and taking on water. A helicopter arrived at the scene within 45 minutes and rescue swimmer Tye Conklin was lowered from the helicopter that was hovering 100 feet above the distressed vessel. One of the boat’s two engines had failed, and the captain who survived was trying to keep the vessel from flipping over and could not investigate the fate of Moyse, of Seminole, Fla.

Conklin found Moyse below in the galley, covered with debris. “Everything that was not tied down was on top of him,†said Christopher McLaughlin of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in Atlantic City. “There were no vital signs.â€

The injured captain was hoisted into the rescue basket followed by the deceased captain and the rescue swimmer together. By 0930 the helicopter was on its way to Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, Md.

The focus of the investigation centers on the starboard leg of the vessel. “During severe weather, the starboard leg may have given way,†Kaszuba said.

The vessel washed up on the sandy shore at Bethany Beach, Del., about 10 miles south of Rehoboth Beach. That made salvaging the lift boat easier.

By Professional Mariner Staff