Tank ship sinks supply vessel

At 3:46 a.m. in the Mississippi River, a chemical tank ship collided with and sank an oil field supply vessel.  The two vessels were in a meeting situation, with the tank ship outbound.  The situation was complicated by the fact that at the moment of the collision the tank ship was also right at the point of meeting another large vessel.  This limited the options available to the pilot on the tank ship, who feared losing control and colliding with the large vessel.

In the 5 1/2 minutes prior to the collision, the pilot on the tank ship ordered or himself executed three radio transmissions, three whistle signals, and three course changes, all designed to facilitate a safe meeting with the supply vessel.  The final whistle signal was a danger signal with 10 to 12 blasts, and just after it was given the supply vessel veered under the bow of the tank ship.  A more timely danger signal might have attracted the attention of the crew on the supply vessel, but both of the two-whistle signals before the danger signal were ignored.  It can only be concluded that the crew on the supply vessel was not paying proper attention and that a lookout certainly was not posted.

As a result of the collision, the supply vessel capsized and became impaled keel-first on the stem of the tank ship.  The captain and one of the crew went overboard; they were seen and heard in the water but could not be saved; the water temperature was 57°F.  The other two crewmembers were trapped in their staterooms.  One drowned immediately, the other found an air pocket in his stateroom.

The tank ship, with the supply vessel wrapped around its bow and unable to drop its anchors, eventually grounded.  Coast Guard personnel were checking the hull of the supply vessel when the trapped survivor heard them by holding his hairbrush up against the hull.  He banged on the hull with the hairbrush and anything else within grasp and managed to make himself heard.  Six hours after the collision the crewmember was rescued.  Nothing more needs to be said about the need for attentive watchstanding. The truly remarkable feature of this case is that the trapped crewman was rescued.

Source: U.S. Coast Guard Office of Investigations and Analysis

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