Tugs sink, drillship grounds as Hurricane Harvey slams Texas


U.S. Coast Guard air crews rescued at least 27 mariners from vessels that grounded or sank near Port Aransas, Texas during Hurricane Harvey in late August.

Casualties requiring rescues included the 4,400-hp tugboat Signet Enterprise, which sank on Aug. 26 after the drillship it was assisting broke free from its moorings during the storm, which made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane. The drillship, DPDS1, grounded twice after breaking loose.

Three Higman Barge Lines towboats and six barges also broke free on Aug. 26. Sandy Point and Sabine Pass grounded near San Jose Island, just north of Port Aransas, while Belle Chasse sank in the Lydia Ann Channel. All 11 crewmembers on the three vessels were rescued.

Coast Guard Lt. Peter Schofield, who flew the MH-65 helicopter that rescued the Higman crews, recalled seeing barges “scattered” around the island.

“The tugs were right on the edge of the marsh, whereas the barges … were pretty much in the center of this island,” Schofield said in a recent interview. “The barges themselves disconnected and might have drifted with the storm surge, then landed high and dry in the middle of this island.”

“The unexpected strength of the storm unfortunately overcame both the moorings and the efforts of the assist tugs to hold the ship in place,” said a spokesman for drillship owner Paragon Offshore. A Coast Guard rescue swimmer guided the tug’s four-man crew to safety.

Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

Higman spokesman Darrell Wilson said the three towboats were each paired with two barges and were moored near Port Aransas when Harvey hit.

“Due to the severity of the storm, M/V Belle Chasse sank and the other two vessels were beached,” Wilson said. “Each vessel had two barges connected, which broke free in the storm, but all six barges were empty and (posed) no danger of pollution.”

The extent of the damage, particularly to the sunken Belle Chasse, was not available.

On Aug. 25, the day before Harvey made landfall, the dive support vessel Gulf Justice grounded near Port Mansfield, Texas. Schofield’s crew hoisted all 12 crewmembers to safety.

Coast Guard Lt. Karl Alejandre said the agency is investigating the circumstances of each incident but has not yet determined the causes.

The drillship DPDS1 broke from its moorings and grounded twice during Hurricane Harvey, initially on the north side of the Port Aransas channel, then on the south side after refloating with the tide.

Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard 

The call for help from the 166-foot Gulf Justice came at 0340 and was one of the first Harvey-related assists for the Coast Guard. The crew aboard the U.S.-flagged ship reported that it was taking on water offshore of Port Mansfield, south of Corpus Christi.

Schofield flew his MH-65 helicopter from an airfield roughly 30 miles inland to meet the ship, which was getting battered in 40- to 45-mph winds. It was between the jetties off Port Mansfield and grounded on a shoal near the southern jetty, Schofield said.

In two shifts, Schofield’s team hoisted the crew off the stricken vessel that afternoon. A rescue tug was initially hired to respond to the dive vessel but could not get underway.

Gulf Justice was later salvaged and towed to Louisiana for repairs, Alejandre said. Vessel operator Marlin Oilfield Divers of Houma, La., did not respond to requests for comment.

The next day, the Coast Guard rescued four people from the 105-foot Signet Enterprise, which partially sank near the Gulf Copper terminal across from Port Aransas. Signet Enterprise and another unidentified tugboat were assigned to hold DPDS1 against the terminal, although the drillship still broke free and damaged both tugs.

The Coast Guard airlifted 12 people from the dive support vessel Gulf Justice on Aug. 25 after it grounded near Port Mansfield, Texas, as Hurricane Harvey approached the coast. The vessel was later salvaged and towed to Louisiana for repairs.

Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

Schofield said another Coast Guard helicopter crew landed near the terminal, where a rescue swimmer “jumped into the water and one by one grabbed four people off of that boat.”

Paragon Offshore, which owns the drillship, issued a statement after the accident that said officials had accounted for both tugboat crews. Paragon also said its vessel grounded twice and came to rest on the south side of Aransas Pass.

“Ahead of the storm, we had arranged for two standby tugs to remain with the vessel and supplement the ship’s mooring system,” Lee Ahlstrom, Paragon’s senior vice president, said in the prepared statement. “But the unexpected strength of the storm unfortunately overcame both the moorings and the efforts of the assist tugs to hold the ship in place.”

Ahlstrom declined to comment beyond the company’s statement. Signet Maritime, owner of Signet Enterprise, did not respond to requests for comment on the accident. The drillship was salvaged in early September and towed to the Gulf Marine Fabricators shipyard in Corpus Christi.

Schofield and other air crew from Air Station Corpus Christi also assisted for the next six days in Houston, which received unprecedented rainfall and flooding from Harvey.

By Professional Mariner Staff