Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lessons Learned—A ship capsizes while loading cargo—Part IV

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine. To see previous posts: Part I (Mar. 16), Part II (Mar. 18), Part III (Mar. 23)

Everyone on deck tumbled into the 30°F water of the Hudson River. A few seconds later, they were joined by all of the other crewmen except for three of the four who were down in the hold. Some were able to hold onto some part of the ship. Others were floating in the river.

It felt like 5°F with the wind chill factor. One multi-million-dollar generator was in the hold, and the other was on the bottom of the Hudson. Fuel oils and hydraulic fluids spilled into the river. The fuel would continue to seep into the river until the tank vents could be plugged.

The Response
The captain of a dredge working downriver made the distress call. Everybody on the wharf grabbed cell phones. In addition to the Coast Guard, the Marine Unit of Albany Fire and Rescue and a Good Samaritan vessel responded quickly. Meanwhile, workers on the wharf used a crane to pull people out of the water.

Tragically, all three of the men in the cargo hold either drowned or died of hypothermia. Everyone else was pulled out of the water alive. Five of these people had to be treated for injuries.

One real lesson learned was that there was no need for anyone to have been in the hold. Crewmen who weren’t directly engaged in the loading operation should not have been on the ship, especially considering that the crew had all night to secure the cargo for sea.

The Aftermath
The refloating operation took three weeks. The salvage company needed two barges with a large crane on each. In spite of the ship’s small size, this operation was not without difficulty. With the exception of the house and engine room, this little ship was all cargo hold, and all of it was full of water, since the ship was on its port side on the bottom.

The group planned to get the hatch covers back on as quickly as possible so the hold could be dewatered. The hatch covers were the type put on in sections, using the ship’s derricks. This created greater difficulty, as the hatch-cover sections were hollow and had a tendency to float. With cutting torches, the salvage crew burned holes in the sections so they could fill with water and sink as they were manhandled into place. Fortunately, the pumps discharged at a faster rate than the inflow of river water, and the dewatering operation was a success.

With divers in the water, boats were able to get wire slings around both of the derricks’ masts and the two cranes (aboard the barges) took a strain. The ship maintained a severe 20° list through the remainder of the dewatering operation.

Finally, the ship floated upright. There was a coating of oil everywhere and people had to be extremely cautious with every step. The two generators were recovered, and the barge cranes were able to get them onto the wharf.

In May of 2004, the Albany Maritime Ministry held a memorial service for the three men who perished. A ceremonial gravestone with their names and the name of their ship was placed in a park adjacent to the Port of Albany.

For more information:
Full article is available at Click on “archives” and “2008 Volume 65, Number 2” (Summer 2008).

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