Three hurt while trying to secure chemical drums in rough seas

Three crewmembers needed to be airlifted from a bulk carrier after two suffered chemical burns and a third suffered a knee injury during a cleaning operation in heavy weather. 

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter hoisted the trio from the pitching deck of Almasi, which was 52 miles west of the Columbia River Bar on Feb. 5. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Amanda Norcross said the three were injured while cleaning cargo holds aboard the 623-foot, Cyprus-flagged ship.

Two mariners suffered chemical burns and one suffered a knee injury that required surgery, according to Christos Hadjigeorgiou, managing director of Almi Marine Management, the Athens, Greece-based operator of the vessel.

The crewmen were cleaning the cargo hold with alkaline cleaner. Hadjigeorgiou said in an email to Professional Mariner that the drums containing this chemical were lashed but became loose due to the severe rolling of the vessel.

“The master instructed these crewmembers to tighten the lashings, but unfortunately the drums broke loose and then broke open,” Hadjigeorgiou wrote. “As a result the chemical spilled over and created those injuries to three crewmembers. One drum injured one of the crew at his knee and he had to undergo surgery.”

One of the crewmembers had been pronounced fit for duty as of late March. The second was expected to be pronounced fit a few days later. The third was undergoing physiotherapy after his orthopedic operation, Hadjigeorgiou said.

The Coast Guard will not conduct an investigation of the incident, Norcross said.

A helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Columbia River hoisted the men aboard in 31- to 38-mph winds and 19-foot seas. At some point the wind must have gusted up to 50 mph because it caused the helicopter’s heading hold setting to automatically disengage, according to the pilot, Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Carter.

The vessel was rolling considerably during the rescue, and the four cranes rising from the deck made the operation even more difficult.

“We would use the crane arms for our reference point when hovering, but because of their height, plus the pitching seas, those things were moving significantly,” Carter said. “It was difficult when you’re trying to avoid being batted out of the sky by the same thing you’re looking at.”

The rescue began when Pacific Maritime Agencies contacted Coast Guard Sector Columbia River at about 1130 hours. The vessel was originally about 69 miles west of the Columbia River Bar and the crew coordinated with Coast Guard personnel to move the vessel closer to shore.

Initially the air crew had trouble communicating with the vessel crew because the master spoke only broken English, Carter said. One of the prime spots on the vessel to conduct the rescue had loose equipment fouling the site, so the air crew had to find an alternate location and communicate that to the vessel crew. 

“We were able to communicate to them we were going to the forward gunwale and from that point forward the crew down there did a good job,” Carter said.

Carter credited his team of flight mechanic Petty Officer Blair Petterson and rescue swimmer Petty Officer Aaron Eckstein with managing a successful mission in difficult conditions.||“The way we conducted the mission, put the swimmer down on the boat and coordinated recovery of the three people was outstanding,” Carter said.

The helicopter arrived at around 1342 and hoisted the three men on board. Two were able to move under their power, while one was wrapped in a blanket and strapped into a medevac litter, according to Coast Guard video.

The helicopter arrived onshore at about 1509 and the three men were transferred to a local hospital for further treatment. The vessel was en route from Portland, Ore., to Nakhodka, Russia.

By Professional Mariner Staff