Genset goes under

Just hours after taking on more than 1,900 gallons of diesel fuel, a 72-foot steel longliner steamed out of its home port into the Gulf of Mexico. It was the first week of November, and the skipper, his first mate, two deckhands and a NMFS observer were starting their first day of what was planned to be a two- to three-week fishing trip.

On the tenth day of the trip, the mate noticed that seawater had slowly begun to leak into the lazarette and rudder room. The skipper activated the installed bilge pump, which quickly pumped out the water. The skipper told the mate to keep an eye on the situation.

At 2 a.m. on the 15th day, one of the deckhands was checking the lazarette and discovered that the flooding had worsened. The installed bilge pump wasn’t keeping up with the rate of flooding. The skipper dropped an electric submersible pump into the lazarette to help. Within minutes, the skipper heard the engine idle back and then shut down. He pulled the throttle back to neutral, headed down to the engine room and found water in the fuel filters. As the skipper and mate were changing out the fuel filters, the generator died. Keeping his frustration in check, the skipper restarted the generator and turned his attention back to getting the main engine running. 

At 3 a.m., the generator failed again. Repeated attempts to restart the generator and the main engine were unsuccessful. No electricity meant there wasn’t any power to run the pumps, and no main propulsion meant the longliner couldn’t maneuver, but there was back-up battery power to operate the radios. The skipper made a radio call to a sister vessel that was operating 85 miles to the south and asked for assistance; a possible transfer of good fuel and then a possible tow or escort back to port.

By 8 a.m. the weather conditions had worsened; winds were out of the northwest at 25 knots and seas 6 to 8 feet. The longliner was adrift, riding with its stern into the seas. Waves occasionally broke over the back deck. The combination of the leak through the rudderpost packing gland and the breaking waves had filled the lazarette; the stern was sitting low.

By 2 p.m., winds were out of the northwest at more than 30 knots and seas were in excess of 10 feet. The skipper realized the crew couldn’t wait for the arrival of the sister vessel, which was still 53 miles away. The skipper called the Coast Guard for assistance. He requested that his two deckhands and the observer be evacuated from the longliner; he also asked for a dewatering pump. He and the mate planned to stay with the longliner.

The Coast Guard launched a rescue helicopter and a fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft. Rescuers dropped a portable dewatering pump to the longliner and then remained in the area to coordinate communications. The skipper and mate retrieved the pump and quickly put it into operation. The helicopter hoisted the two deckhands and the observer off the longliner.

The stern was getting lower in the water, and the water on deck was inching closer to the ice hold. The skipper asked that he and the mate be evacuated. 

At around 8:45 p.m. the helicopter completed hoisting the skipper and mate off of the longliner. The longliner, while still afloat, was settling fast and sank unobserved some time during the night. There were no injuries reported and the owner of the longliner said he would not be attempting a recovery or salvage of the vessel.

Lessons learned

The primary cause for the loss of this vessel was equipment failure. The failures of the vessel’s rudder packing gland led to flooding of the lazarette. Then failure of vessel’s fuel system, which allowed water to get into the fuel, resulted in loss of the vessel’s main propulsion, generator power and associated bilge pump. Since the vessel had no dewatering capability, the stern settled lower in the water. And since the vessel had no ability to maneuver, it became vulnerable to a stern sea, which allowed waves to ship over the stern. Improper maintenance of the vessel and equipment and failure to properly repairs systems led to problems.

A well-maintained vessel and prepared crew can buy a little extra time to calmly think yourself and your crew through the problem. Fish safe!

This article is based on U.S. Coast Guard reporting and is intended to bring safety issues to the attention of our readers. It is not intended to judge or reach conclusions regarding the ability or capacity of any person, living or dead, or any boat or piece of equipment.

NF Sept16 CVR

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