Casualty briefs

El Faro VDR yields audio,new clues about sinking
National Transportation Safety Board technicians have recovered roughly 26 hours of audio and weather and navigational data from El Faro’s voyage data recorder, which was recovered Aug. 8 from a depth of 15,000 feet.

El Faro sank Oct. 1, 2015, east of Crooked Island in the Bahamas after losing engine power as Hurricane Joaquin approached. The U.S.-flagged cargo ship operated by a TOTE subsidiary had 33 people on board and none survived.

The ship’s VDR began recording at about 0530 on Sept. 30, soon after the ro-ro ship left Jacksonville, Fla., for Puerto Rico. A day later, it captured the crew discussing the ship’s loss of propulsion and list attributed to flooding, an NTSB release said. Recordings also captured Capt. Michael Davidson telling shore personnel about El Faro’s precarious state.

“The master ordered abandon ship and sounded the alarm about 7:30 a.m., Oct. 1, 2015. The recording ended about 10 minutes later when the El Faro was about 39 nautical miles northeast of Crooked Island, Bahamas,” the NTSB said.

There was some evidence that crewmembers tried to abandon ship, although it’s unclear if they had time to follow Davidson’s order. Only one crewmember’s remains were found during the massive search last October but the body was not recovered.

The VDR unit and its “memory module” were in good shape, but some of its contents might not be recoverable. NTSB specialists are continuing efforts to pull more information from the device. The agency plans to release a transcript of the recording.

Five injured when ferry hits kayakers in NYC 
Five people were hurt when a NY Waterway ferry struck a group of kayakers during rush hour near Pier 79 in Manhattan, the New York Police Department said. One kayaker’s arm was nearly severed in the accident.

The ferry Jersey City was backing out of a slip at about 0553 on Aug. 30, apparently as the kayakers were passing by. Local media reported glare might have been a factor in the incident, although the department’s media office declined to comment. Police would not discuss a possible cause or say how many passengers were on board the ferry.

NYPD marine units responded to the scene and helped the victims from the water. Most victims suffered cuts and bruises. None of their injuries were considered life-threatening. The Coast Guard referred questions about the incident back to city police.

NTSB: Lack of maintenance led to barge sinking
Minor flooding was a recurring problem on a deck barge that sank at a Convent, La., fleeting area, and the National Transportation Safety Board said a lack of maintenance was a leading reason why it went down.

Associated Marine Terminals of New Orleans acquired the 180-foot barge Margaret about six months before it sank early on Aug. 31, 2015. Employees said the vessel required pumping a couple times a month, but the flooding worsened in the week before the sinking.

At about 2030 the night before it sank, an employee rigged two pumps to dewater the barge after noticing it listing slightly to port. Flooding worsened over the next several hours, and at about 0330 the barge’s port stern was underwater. Soon the entire vessel was submerged, the NTSB report said.

Salvage crews raised the barge about two months later, but Coast Guard investigators could not identify the exact source of the flooding. However, there was two feet of mud in the port stern void. The barge was later scrapped, and the company estimated the loss at $2 million.

Towing fatalities rise, casualties fall in 2015
There were fewer towing-related accidents in 2015 than the year before, but more people died on the job, according to a report released by the U.S. Coast Guard and the American Waterways Operators.

The August report showed six work-related deaths in 2015 compared to four the year before. Three victims fell into the water, two died in separate capsizing accidents and a tug captain died of exposure after abandoning a sinking vessel, the report said. Since 2005, there have been 9.6 towing-related deaths per year on average.

There were 1,184 towing incidents in 2015, a 34 percent drop from the prior year and the lowest total since at least 1994. However, the decrease coincides with new Coast Guard reporting standards for low-severity incidents. There were 118 high-severity incidents that resulted in 109 crew injuries.

Kirby to pay $4.9 million for Houston oil spill
Kirby Inland Marine will pay $4.9 million for Clean Water Act violations stemming from a March 2014 incident in the Houston Ship Channel. The company also agreed to install new navigational equipment on its vessels and provide new training for its crews, according to the Coast Guard and U.S. Justice Department.

The incident occurred as the Kirby towboat Miss Susan was pushing two 300-foot oil barges in the Houston Ship Channel near the Texas City Y. During heavy fog, the tow crossed the channel in front of the 607-foot bulker Summer Wind, which struck the lead Kirby barge, the agencies said in a news release. Roughly 4,000 barrels of marine fuel escaped into the channel, and 160 miles of shoreline was oiled.

In addition to the fine, Kirby agreed to install new navigational equipment on its towboats and train its crews to use the new components. The company also must provide new skills training and simulator time to its crews for a similar crossing in the Texas City Y, located near Galveston and Port Bolivar, Texas.

“This is a strict liability penalty process,” Kirby spokesman Matt Woodruff said. “When oil is spilled from a vessel or facility, its owner is subject to a civil penalty such as has been imposed here.”

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