Two officers inspecting bow for storm damage are killed by wave

The master and chief engineer aboard a 901-foot tanker were killed when a large wave swept over the main deck while the officers were checking the bow area for storm damage.

The chief officer on Aegean Angel was severely injured in the Dec. 30, 2010, accident in the Atlantic Ocean off Bermuda. He lay in the ship’s sick bay for three days before a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter could reach the vessel to evacuate him.

The Greek-flagged Aegean Angel had sailed through rough weather just before the incident, vessel operator Arcadia Shipmanagement Co. said. When conditions appeared to have calmed down, the officers decided to leave the bridge and go forward to survey the vessel’s structural integrity.

“While they were on deck, a large wave struck them with great force,” the Greek company said in a statement. “As a result, the master and chief engineer lost their lives immediately, while the chief officer was seriously injured.”

The tanker was sailing from Estonia to Houston when it encountered the heavy weather. The accident happened 790 nm north-northeast of Bermuda, said Denis Rowe, chief maritime operations controller at the Bermuda Maritime Operations Centre.

Conditions included gale-force winds of around 50 mph, with 15- to 18-foot seas, the U.S. Coast Guard said. Witnesses reported that the rough conditions had eased by the time the three officers came down from the bridge.

While they were at the bow, a large wave swept across the deck, knocked the men down and slammed them against metal equipment. The master and chief engineer suffered massive head injuries that were immediately fatal. The chief officer, bleeding profusely, was momentarily trapped underwater because his hand was caught underneath a winch before the wave drained off the deck.

Authorities identified the chief officer as Antonios Ioannou, 34, of Cyprus. He had serious injuries to his chest and face and fractured vertebrae, said Rowe, of the Bermuda Maritime Operations Centre, the rescue coordination center in Bermuda.

Killed were Capt. Demetrios Bozonis, 47, and Chief Engineer Athanasios Papageorgiou, 33, both of Greece.

The accident happened on the morning of Dec. 30. Within hours, Greek maritime authorities requested that the U.S. Coast Guard medevac Ioannou from the ship. The Coast Guard could not immediately comply.

“District 5 determined that the vessel was too far away to transport the patient,” the Coast Guard said in a written chronology of the operation.

Two days later, a H-60 Jayhawk helicopter departed Elizabeth City, N.C., en route to Bermuda, said Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer David Marin. After refueling and spending the night in Bermuda, the Coast Guard crew took off at 0730 Jan. 2 to rendezvous with Aegean Angel. An hour later, the helicopter reached the ship, hoisted the injured officer and delivered a substitute master and chief engineer.

Ioannou was taken to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in Bermuda, where he underwent facial surgery and recovered. Rowe said Aegean Angel sailed to the Bahamas.

The bodies of the two dead officers were removed and placed in the custody of Bahamian authorities. They eventually were transported to Greece for funerals.

The flag state was expected to lead the casualty investigation. Marin said the U.S. Coast Guard’s involvement in the probe would be based at District 8 headquarters in New Orleans because the ship’s next scheduled port-of-call was Houston. The Coast Guard planned to inspect the ship upon arrival, but provided no further details.

An estimated height of the killer wave was unavailable. Neither the Coast Guard nor the company would comment on whether the tanker had suffered any damage in the gale.

Dom Yanchunas

By Professional Mariner Staff