U.S. Coast Guard rescues crew after ship carrying Haiti supplies breaks apart

A 206-foot cargo ship sailing from Miami capsized and broke into pieces after striking an unknown submerged object off Damas Cays on the Cay Sal Bank, Bahamas.

Ten crewmembers and a dog abandoned ship just before Mystic capsized.

They were rescued from one life raft by personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Nantucket and a Coast Guard helicopter at about 0430 on Oct. 7, 2010.

The cargo vessel Mystic capsized in the Bahamas after the U.S. Coast Guard had rescued all 10 of the crew and their dog. The ship struck a submerged object, flooded and broke apart on Cay Sal Bank. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

The cause of the casualty is unknown. According to Lt. Andrew Pate, Nantucket‘s commander, there are treacherous rocks in the area, but they are well marked.

“You have to be extremely vigilant whenever you are sailing in this area,” Pate said. “I can’t speak to what the ship ran into.”

Since the sinking did not occur in United States waters, the Coast Guard will not conduct an investigation into the casualty. The vessel is registered in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Mystic was transporting supplies from Miami to Haiti for a Canadian-based missionary group that runs a health clinic in Oriani.

The vessel was transporting a Chevrolet Suburban, medical supplies, household supplies, tools, a propane freezer, and schoolbooks to Port-au-Prince, where the aid would then go to the mountain village, according to a post by Keith and Candace Toews, who run the clinic, in a humanitarian blog called Operation Noah’s Ark.

Mystic contacted search and rescue coordinators in Key West at 1408 on Oct. 6 with a mayday call. The crew did not describe what happened and could not hear responses from rescue operators, according to a Coast Guard press release. The Coast Guard sent the 110-foot Nantucket. An HC-130 Hercules from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater arrived at 1419 and found that Mystic had apparently struck a submerged object and was taking on water.

Nantucket arrived at 1606 but could not get closer than about a mile to Mystic because of 10- to 12-foot seas and a northeast wind of about 32 knots, according to Pate. At 1823 Mystic was able to move into the lee of one of the Damas Cays and anchor. At that point Nantucket was able to get within 800 yards of the flooded vessel.

Pate said the flooding was below the waterline in an area in the cargo hold that the crew could not get to. The crew was shifting cargo in order to try to fix the leak, which was on the vessel’s starboard side. Pate asked the master of the vessel if he voluntarily wanted to abandon ship, but the master said he was trying to reach their shipping agent so that divers could come out and make temporary repairs.

Mystic was listing at 30 to 40 degrees and Pate did not think the ship would remain seaworthy for the time it would take another vessel to arrive and fix the hull. However, the ship’s master said he wanted to keep trying to pump water out.

At about 0300 on Oct. 7, Nantucket received a call that the flooding was out of control and the crew was abandoning ship. Nantucket sent its 18-foot boat with three crew, including a rescue swimmer, to the sinking vessel. In addition, a Coast Guard helicopter arrived from Marathon, Fla., at 0410.

At this point, the vessel was listing at 70 degrees and the decks on the starboard side were awash, Pate said. The small boat picked up four crewmembers from the life raft and took them to Nantucket. Even in the lee of the cays, seas were still 6 feet.

Nantucket‘s small boat returned to the life raft, but the helicopter picked up the other six crew and a sheep dog. “Within 20 minutes of rescuing the last person, the vessel capsized,” said Pate.

David A. Tyler

By Professional Mariner Staff