Tug Valour, a 1975-built ocean-going tug, sank on 18 January, 2006, while towing a barge loaded with 175,000 barrels of oil. Three lives were lost because the crew did not adhere to the vessel’s stability letter and cross-connect valves between port and starboard tanks pairs were left open in seas of up to 6 metres and winds reaching as much as 50 knots.
The US Coast Guard has issued a ‘lessons learned’ regarding the incident.
The original report into the sinking describes the incident, and attempts to save lives: “At approximately 2320, the Master sounded the general alarm as a result of a significant port list brought on by the filling of the #18 port ballast tank and subsequent unanticipated hydrostatic balancing of the #4 and #5 fuel tanks and the washwater tanks. At approximately 2330, the Chief Mate, enroute to the engine room, fell down the ladder leading from the pilot house to the 01 deck (referred to as Stack Deck) passageway. It is believed that both of his legs were broken. He later went into cardiac arrest, died, and presumably, went down with the vessel. At approximately 2338, while trying to assist the Chief Mate out on deck for medical evacuation, one of the Able-Bodied Seaman fell overboard.
After calling the Coast Guard and during man overboard rescue operations, the Master turned the Valour toward the east which brought the wind and seas off the starboard beam. This aggravated the situation by increasing the vessel’s roll. On January 18,2006, at approximately 0009, barge M 192 was released as a result of its overtaking of the VALOUR on the port side, presenting a hazardous tripping situation. Coast Guard Helicopter 6553 arrived on scene at 0050, located the man overboard, and hoisted him onboard the helicopter at 0 106.
Shortly after 0100, the tug Justine Foss arrived on scene to provide assistance and positioned itself approximately 50 yards away from the Valour . The helicopter dropped a 20 person liferaft in the vicinity of the Valour and departed at 0140. At approximately 0145, after the Master determined that they could not save the Valour from sinking, he mustered all the crew on the bow.
During this time the port list increased in severity and fuel had escaped from the port fuel tank vents. At approximately 0225, the stern submerged and the bow of the Valour went straight up in the air. The Chief Engineer and an Able-Bodied Seaman fell from the bow landing on the superstructure and then went into the sea. The Able-Bodied Seaman was located by the Justine Foss, but could not be rescued and was lost at sea.
The Chief Engineer was the last crewmember to be rescued by the Justine Foss. He died onboard the Justine Foss from shock brought on by hypothermia. Three more of the crewmembers were individually washed into the sea and later rescued by the Justine Foss.
The Master, the Assistant Engineer, and the Cook were the only crew still left on the Valour. They all went into the water together and were rescued together. While in transit to Wilmington, NC, the Assistant Engineer was medically evacuated by Coast Guard Helicopter due to diabetic issues. The crew of the Valour was transferred to another vessel and brought into Wilmington. The Justine Foss recovered barge M 192 and safely towed it back to Wilmington.”
In itrs Lesson Learned, the USCG says: “Prior to the casualty, the towing vessel had no material failures or deficiencies. Its systems, equipment, and components were all operating as designed.
“The causal factors of the casualty consisted of multiple human errors which had disastrous results when the vessel was experiencing extreme environmental conditions. Several senior crewmembers onboard the vessel erred by operating the vessel without regard for the vessel’s stability letter. They were non-compliant with the letter and also demonstrated a general lack of knowledge of the letter’s content, specifically the “Operating Restrictions” section.
”Stability letters apply to a vessel at all times and are continuously in effect. Although vessel stability letters are addressed to the master, all of the deck officers are responsible for stability issues. Vessel engineers are also responsible to ensure that the master and other deck officers are aware noncompliance issues that take place within the engine room. The letter’s “Operating Restrictions” may state that certain restrictions only apply when the vessel is underway. There are standard phrases that are on every stability letter. The ones that applied to this casualty follow:
1) TANKS: No more than one centerline tank or P/S tank pair of potable water, lube oil, dirty oil and ballast water and two P/S pair of fuel oil tanks may be partially filled at one time.
2) TANKS: Any cross-connections between port and starboard tank pairs shall be kept closed at all times when underway.
3) LIST: You should make every effort to determine the cause of any list of the vessel before taking corrective action.