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Maritime Casualty News, March 2018

Mar 22, 2018 02:21 PM

Coast Guard raises damage threshold for casualty reporting

The U.S. Coast Guard has raised the damage threshold for reporting a “serious marine incident” to $75,000 starting April 18. The current trigger for reporting an incident is $25,000.

The rule change also raises to $200,000 the threshold for requiring chemical testing following a marine casualty. Currently, the testing requirement starts at incidents that exceed $100,000.

The changes, which have been in the works for some time, are expected to reduce the number of reportable incidents overall, and those requiring chemical tests. They are also expected to save operators money. The existing thresholds have been in place since the 1980s and have not kept up with inflation, according to the notification in the Federal Register.

“Over time, this has resulted in the reporting of a greater number of casualties involving relatively minor property damage,” the Coast Guard states in the register. “It was never our intent to require owners or operators to notify us of casualties involving relatively minor property damage.”

“Our intent in setting a dollar amount threshold in our marine casualty reporting regulation and within the definition of ‘serious marine incident’ was, and remains, to ensure that the Coast Guard is aware of those incidents that could be indicative of more serious problems that may be averted in the future with timely intervention,” the register notes.

The previous notice of rulemaking change proposed raising the threshold to $72,000. During the comment period, the Coast Guard acknowledged the $75,000 figure is easier to remember. It also meets the Coast Guard’s overall intent to align the new figure with the rate of inflation.

For more detail on the rule, visit www.professionalmariner.com/Web-Bulletin-2018/Coast-Guard-raises-casualty-damage-threshold-to-75000/.

Towboat sinks on swollen Mississippi River

The Coast Guard is investigating the sinking of a towboat on the Lower Mississippi River near Donaldsonville, La.

The 59-foot Vincent J. Eymard capsized at about 2130 on March 16 at mile marker 176.4. Crew stepped onto the good Samaritan towboat Ellysa before Vincent J. Eymard went down. No one was injured. Authorities closed that section of river for about 12 hours after the incident.

Vincent J. Eymard was pushing an empty barge when it sank. The tug had about 3,000 gallons of diesel on board, although the Coast Guard said no pollution has been reported.

The incident occurred when the river was at roughly 31.5 feet in Donaldsonville. That level is considered moderate flood stage.

Ferry loses propulsion off Martha’s Vineyard

A ferry carrying 88 people lost propulsion off Martha’s Vineyard on March 17 and had to be towed to port.

Martha’s Vineyard was sailing to Woods Hole, Mass., from Vineyard Haven, Mass., with 78 passengers and 10 crew when it became disabled shortly before 2100. Three tugboats towed the vessel into the Vineyard Ferry terminal at 0130 on March 18.

Another ferry, Woods Hole, responded to Martha's Vineyard. A Coast Guard cutter and small response boat also assisted.

The Coast Guard did not disclose the nature of the propulsion issue. Personnel are monitoring repairs and trials before the vessel returns to service.

Casualty flashback: March 1971

Thirty-one mariners died when the loaded oil tanker Texaco Oklahoma broke in two during a strong storm off Cape Hatteras, N.C. One survivor reported a single large wave caused the bow and stern to separate.

The vessel left Port Arthur, Texas, for Boston with 44 crew and 220,000 barrels of black oil. The vessel broke apart aft of amidships during the afternoon of March 27, 1971, roughly 120 miles from land in 60- to 65-knot winds and 30-foot seas. No one learned of trouble aboard the ship for nearly 36 hours until it failed to arrive in Boston.

The bow section hit the stern after separating, destroying a lifeboat before sinking. All 13 mariners in that section perished, including the radio operator. Crew in the stern section, which remained afloat for another day, tried repeatedly to send a distress signal. Authorities never received one.

Survivors in the stern also launched flares and attempted to signal with lights. They ultimately launched a lifeboat and several makeshift rafts out of drums when the stern section started sinking. Eleven survivors in a raft were rescued by another ship. Two others in the water for 32 hours also were saved.

Investigators and industry representatives disagreed on the cause. The National Transportation Safety Board determined the hull fracture was caused by “high stresses produced by heavy seas and other forces on the relatively lightly constructed, fully loaded ship. The design, maintenance, and operating standards inherently contained risk levels which were excessive for vessels of this type transiting the seas off Cape Hatteras in winter storms.”

The industry has suggested steel wastage on the ship was the leading cause.

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