Three from menhaden boat killed in collision with containership

Three fishermen were killed when a commercial pogy boat collided with a cargo ship in Mississippi Sound.

The refrigerated containership Eurus London was outbound from Gulfport, Miss., on May 18 when its bow plowed into the side of the inbound FV Sandy Point, which sank quickly, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Thirteen of the fishing boat's 16 crew were rescued from the water, Sandy Point owner Omega Protein Corp. said in a statement. Three were trapped inside. Their bodies were recovered by divers on May 20 and May 21.

Crews aboard the southbound 660-foot ship and the 163-foot pogy boat were aware of each other before they collided, said Lt. Israel Parker, a Coast Guard spokesman at Mobile, Ala. The fishing vessel was traveling in the opposite direction of the ship in the Gulfport Ship Channel when it was struck.

"It was inside the channel," Parker said. "It was hit broadside. It sank within a few minutes after being involved in the collision."

An Inland Salvage Inc. crane lifts the stern section of Sandy Point from 25 feet of water. The pogy boat sank as a result of the collision with the reefer ship Eurus London. Sandy Point was so badly damaged that the salvage crew needed to cut the vessel in half on the sea floor before retrieving it. (Photo courtesy Omega Protein Corp.)

The Liberian-flagged reefer ship was accelerating to 10.8 knots when the collision occurred between Ship Island and Cat Island at about 2040, according to Automatic Identification System data provided by PortVision, a company that provides vessel tracking services. The channel is 220 feet wide at the collision location, Parker said.

The two vessels had communicated by radio and had arranged a port-to-port passing, said Omega Protein spokesman Ben Landry. He said the ship's bow struck the starboard side of the pogy boat. He was unaware of any mechanical breakdowns aboard Sandy Point and didn't know a reason for the accident.

The bow carved a 15-foot-long puncture into the fishing boat's hull, Landry said. Sandy Point's crew had only seconds to abandon ship while being pushed along.

"They jumped overboard," Parker said. "When the Eurus London came in contact with the vessel, it held up the vessel for a short period while they were both kind of still moving, and during that period they got off."

Eurus London picked up two of the crew from the water. A nearby pilot boat rescued the other 11.

Landry said Sandy Point had been sailing northbound with a full load of menhaden, intending to rendezvous with the "carry vessel" Frosty Morn, to which it would have transferred its load. The pilot boat transported the survivors to Frosty Morn. Houston-based Omega Protein runs a processing facility at nearby Moss Point.

Eurus London, part of the Great White Fleet that transports Chiquita brand fruit, makes a regular loop between Gulfport and four Central American ports. The registered owner is Monaco-based Eurus London LLC. Parker said the ship had unloaded bananas at Gulfport.

A phone call to the Great White Fleet (U.S.) Ltd.s Cincinnati headquarters was electronically forwarded to the company's Wilmington, Del., terminal, and a message went unreturned.

Inland Salvage Inc. used A-frame derrick crane barges to recover the sunken Sandy Point a month after the accident in 25 feet of water. The vessel was so badly damaged that it had to be cut in half first, Landry said.

Parker said the collision happened in clear weather. The cause is unknown, pending a lengthy investigation.

A civil lawsuit filed by the widow of fisherman Thomas Lee Moore blamed the collision on both vessels, citing negligence, crew incompetence, a lack of training, poor management and failure to follow navigation rules. The federal lawsuit said Sandy Point was unseaworthy, without elaborating.

By Professional Mariner Staff