Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Lessons Learned —Failed Assumptions Lead to a Fatal Sinking at Sea—Part 2

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council magazine by Ms. Krista Reddington, technical writer.

Man Overboard!
Two able-bodied seamen were looking for a way to help the chief mate up to the emergency deck. Moments later, one able-bodied seaman fell overboard from the ladder leading to the stack deck. Another able-bodied seaman yelled “man overboard,” prompting the captain to notify the Coast Guard of a situation that was becoming increasingly perilous.

The tug Independence was able to relay the mayday message of the floundering vessel to the parent company via the company’s emergency number. By this time, the chief mate had stopped breathing and the second mate began CPR.

The First Rescuers Arrive
The assistant engineer found the chief mate lying at the foot of the ladder with no pulse and, as he arrived in the wheelhouse, he was informed that an able-bodied seaman had fallen overboard. Crew members attempted to pull him back aboard the vessel, but all attempts failed.

Coast Guard Helicopter 6553 arrived. While hoisting the able-bodied seaman from the water, the crew notified Sector North Carolina that the tug was sinking quickly. The helicopter crew determined they did not have enough fuel to rescue the rest of the tug crew and dropped a 20-person life raft prior to departing the scene.

The tug Justine Foss arrived on the scene just after 1:00 a.m. and waited for the crew to abandon the ill-fated tug. Nearly an hour later, the rescue vessel reported seeing the crew of the other tug mustered on the bow, but the captain never gave the order to abandon ship.

Washed Overboard
Several crewmembers were standing at the forwardmost part of the bow when the tug, severely trimmed by the stern, pitched with the bow straight up. One able-bodied seaman was thrown into the water, while another able-bodied seaman and the chief engineer fell from the bow, landing on the superstructure before entering the water. A large wave washed the second mate into the water. The crew of the Justine Foss was able to locate the able-bodied seaman that had fallen into the water, but it was too late.

The captain, assistant engineer, and ordinary seaman were on the fender of the tug when a large wave washed them into the sea. They remained together for about 20 minutes, until the crew of the other tug was able to pull them aboard.

What went wrong
  • Communication Problems—Although the chief engineer was conducting ballasting operations without communication with the wheelhouse, additional ballasting operations were ordered by the captain. The chief engineer was not informed of this and continued to report to the second mate, who then failed to report the procedures to the captain.
  • Failure to Practice Good Seamanship—The investigation found several instances where the captain failed to make timely decisions that could have saved the lives of his crewmembers.
  • Failure to Follow Regulations—A grave mistake was made in allowing the engineers to stop pumping ballast water out of the #18 port ballast tank and start pumping into the #18 starboard ballast tank. At the angle the tug was listing, the ballast pump sea suction was not submerged, and therefore was pumping only a minimal amount of water into the #18 starboard ballast tank, which assured that the vessel would not right itself. Further, the #4 and #5 port and starboard fuel tanks were cross-connected. If they had not been it would have allowed for hydrostatic balancing, making it possible that this casualty may not have occurred.

The Aftermath
Following its investigation, the Coast Guard recommended disciplinary action against the captain of the tug. As a result, a suspension and revocation action was initiated against his license for negligence, misconduct, and a violation of law or regulation. Additionally, the Coast Guard recommended a review against the second mate for negligence and possible incompetence as well as a review against the assistant engineer for misconduct.

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