Casualty briefs


Undetected leak cited in La. towboat sinking

Federal investigators determined that the towboat Gracie Claire, which sank in Venice, La., in August 2017, lost stability and freeboard due to an undetected hull leak through the rudder compartment.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), a roughly 1-inch hole in the bottom of the compartment “made the vessel susceptible to the adverse effects of boarding water from the wake of a passing vessel.”

The 1,800-hp Gracie Claire sank on Aug. 23, 2017, at Stone Oil’s dock at mile marker 10 on the Lower Mississippi River. No one was injured, but roughly 1,100 gallons of fuel escaped into the river, more of half of which was recovered.

NTSB investigators believe the 40-year-old towboat had been taking on water for some time before loading fuel at the dock. The vessel had a modest starboard list before loading fuel from the starboard fill pipes, at which point the captain moved to load the vessel from the port side in hopes of regaining balance.

The list gradually worsened after the wake from a passing crew boat washed onto the towboat’s stern at about 0755. Within about 90 seconds, water entered the engine room from the starboard side.

“Once the vessel reached a heel angle that allowed water to reach above the 20-inch coaming of the open door leading to the engine room, the vessel downflooded and rapidly sank,” the NTSB said.

The three crewmembers aboard Gracie Claire climbed onto the dock before the vessel went under. The deck hand, who had only worked in the maritime industry for a month, woke the relief captain who was sleeping at the time.

Triple S Marine of Morgan City, La., salvaged the vessel and replaced key equipment on board. Damage exceeded $500,000.

Salvage crews raised Charlie Boy in August 2015 about a month after it sank in the Mississippi River, killing crewmember Oliver Johnson. A St. Louis jury recently awarded Johnson’s family $4.5 million following a two-week trial.

Courtesy Patrick Bader

Jury awards $4.5 million in crewman’s 2015 death
A jury in St. Louis, Mo., has awarded $4.5 million to relatives of a mariner who died when the towboat on which he was working sank in the Mississippi River.

Oliver Johnson and two other crew were working aboard the 61-foot Charlie Boy on July 19, 2015, when the towboat lost control and then became pinned against a barge broadside to the fast current. The vessel rapidly sank. The other two crewmembers escaped without injury, but Johnson was unable to get off the boat. His body was found in a stateroom about a month later when the vessel was salvaged.

In court documents, attorney Patrick Bader argued that the 40-year-old towboat was unseaworthy, and that owner B.N.B. Towing Service should have known it was unsafe. Osage Marine Services operated the vessel. Both companies are located in St. Louis.

In an initial court filing, an attorney for the two firms argued that Johnson was responsible for his own death.

“Decedent’s death … was the result in whole or part, however slightly, of decedent’s failure to work in the required manner in breach of his primary duty as lead man aboard the vessel,” the two companies wrote in a Nov. 7, 2016, filing.

Charlie Boy, a 1,000-hp fleet boat, has operated under several names over the years, including Leslie Brewer, Stud and Valley Sunshine. Three mariners died when Valley Sunshine sank in the Mississippi River on May 16, 1996, in St. Louis. There were no witnesses or survivors.

Coast Guard rescues crew from ship adrift in Atlantic
The U.S. Coast Guard rescued 10 people from a cargo ship adrift in the North Atlantic Ocean for nearly three weeks.

The 250-foot Tanzania-flagged Alta lost propulsion on Sept. 19 while en route from Greece to Haiti, the Coast Guard said, and crew were unable to make repairs. The ship initially became disabled about 1,380 miles southeast of Bermuda.

Almost two weeks later, on Oct. 2, a Coast Guard airplane dropped food to the crew after they reported supplies were running low. The drop consisted of a week’s worth of meals ready to eat (MREs). At the time, the crew was said to be in high spirits.

Days later, the Coast Guard diverted the cutter Confidence from a patrol near Puerto Rico amid concerns that Alta could be damaged by Hurricane Leslie. The cutter reached the disabled ship on Oct. 8 and brought the crew on board before sailing to Puerto Rico.

At press time, the fate of Alta was not known. As of Oct. 10, the Coast Guard said personnel were still working with its owner to coordinate a rescue tow.

Crew escapes as towboat sinks near Cairo, Ill.
The Coast Guard is investigating the sinking of an 800-hp fleet boat on the Upper Mississippi River near Cairo, Ill.

Authorities learned at about 1400 on Oct. 9 that Totem Kole II was taking on water at mile marker 59.7. It later grounded and partially sank along the left descending bank of the river. Crew escaped the towboat without any reported injuries.

Totem Kole II had about 800 gallons of fuel and another 60 gallons of oil on board, and authorities aren’t sure how much product entered the waterway. An oil spill response organization placed boom around the vessel to prevent further contamination.

Additional details on the incident, including the cause, were not available.

The 49-foot boat was built 56 years ago and is registered to KHC Marine of Percy, Ill. Attempts to reach the company for comment were not successful.

Categories: Casualty News, Publication > Professional Mariner