Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine. To read Part I, please see our May 6 post.
When his tow was approximately 1.5 miles astern, the mate declined an offer to overtake the slower Bouchard. As stated in the USCG report:
“Mate … briefed the captain on the traffic situation. In a radio conversation with pilot [of the Bouchard tow], mate … declined a second offer to overtake.”
It can be inferred that the mate assumed the captain overheard him decline the offer to overtake. The report continued:
“…captain … assumed the watch. … mate … advanced the throttles to full ahead as he left the pilothouse. Captain … steered the … tow toward the center of the channel to pass the Bouchard tow.”
As he moved to overtake, the captain of the Seafarer overheard a conversation between the other two pilots, arranging a port-to-port meeting.
The captain then radioed the pilot of the slower inbound vessel and requested permission to overtake. The Bouchard pilot consented to the overtaking, if the outbound Balsa agreed. The report noted:
“… captain … called pilot [of the Balsa 37], who replied that a port-to-port meeting was agreeable. Captain … did not communicate … that the … tow was in the process of overtaking ...”
The USCG report continued:
“Captain … was expecting the [freighter] to make a hard turn into Egmont Channel. Mate … checked the radar. It was apparent that the [freighter] has passed the point where it had to make its turn.
While captain … was reaching for his radio, pilot [of the Balsa 37] urgently called as to Seafarer’s intentions. Captain … replied that they had agreed on a port-to-port meeting. By now [they] were beyond the point of ‘in extremis.’ Pilot … replied that they would have to make it a starboard-to-starboard meeting. Captain … replied he would come to port.”
The mariners were unsuccessful in avoiding the collision that caused massive damage to both vessels. Additionally, Ocean 255’s no. 1 starboard tank ruptured, and its cargo caught fire.
The Capt. Fred Bouchard
The vessel had experienced problems with its starboard main engine and the assist tug was made up to the tank barge as the tow transited Tampa Bay.
After hearing a pilot on another vessel make arrangements to overtake the Seafarer, which was astern of his vessel, Bouchard’s pilot also made arrangements to be overtaken. He then called the Seafarer, and stated that the vessel could overtake him as well. Seafarer’s mate declined.
The USCG report set the scene:
“[Bouchard’s] pilot … called pilot … on the [outbound freighter] Balsa 37 and arranged a port-to-port meeting. … Captain [of the trailing tow] then called, indicating his position off the tow’s port quarter and his desire to overtake.
Pilot … consented to the overtaking as long as it was agreeable with [oncoming freighter’s] pilot. [Bouchard’s] pilot heard [Seafarer’s] captain call [the pilot of the outbound freighter] immediately and arrange for a port-to-port meeting, but he heard no discussion of the overtaking in progress.”
The mariners aboard the Bouchard tow reported they overheard the urgent radio conversation between the mariners on the other vessels as they tried to avoid collision.
The report continued:
“… Seconds later, the [two vessels] collided …
Struck first on its starboard bow, the [freighter] yawed to port, then abruptly to starboard as … the Ocean 255 moved along its side. The two vessels separated, and, seconds later, the bow of the Balsa 37 impacted the … B. No. 155 ...”
The Balsa 37
As noted in the USCG report:
“[The freighter] passed under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge at 5:24 a.m. at its sea speed of 11 knots … [The pilot] advised the captain that a bow look-out was not needed.”
The report continued:
“Passing abeam buoy 21, the [vessel] continued on its previous course of 261° T. However, pilot … believed he had ordered a change to 262° T, which would bring the ship closer to buoy 19 at the turn.”
Just after passing buoy 21, the pilot received a radio call from the pilot of the lead inbound vessel, proposing a port-to-port meeting. A minute later, the captain of the trailing vessel radioed, also proposing a port-to-port meeting. The Balsa 37 pilot agreed to each meeting.
At that time, the outbound pilot made a call to the pilot boat operator to arrange his next assignment. He did not hear a radio conversation in which the captain of the trailing tow informed the Bouchard tow’s captain that he was overtaking.
The report continued, “pilot [of the Balsa 37] observed a green sidelight crossing his bow. The bows … were about 1,000 to 1,400 feet apart. Pilot … called … to determine the intentions of the Seafarer. Captain … replied that they had agreed to a port-to-port meeting. Pilot urgently replied that it needed to be starboard-to-starboard. Captain … radioed that he would attempt to turn to port.
At approximately 5:45 a.m., the starboard bow of the Ocean 255 struck the starboard side of the Balsa 37 … flames erupted … as the Ocean 255 raked [the outbound freighter].
As [that] tow moved away, pilot … observed that the freighter was headed toward collision with the Bouchard tow. In an attempt to make a port-to-port passing, pilot … ordered the helm hard to starboard, but there was too little time to regain control.
Less than one minute after striking the Ocean 255, the bow of the Balsa 37 impacted the port bow of the B. No. 155.”
In Part III we will outline the scene aboard each vessel in the aftermath of the collisions.
For more information:
Full article is available at www.uscg.mil/proceedings. Click on “archives” and then “2007-08 Vol. 64, Number 4” (Winter 2007-08).
Subscribe online at http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/subscribe.asp.
Direct requests for print copies of this edition to: HQS-DG-NMCProceedings@uscg.mil.
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