(MM&P Wheelhouse Weekly) – The officers and crew of the MV GREEN LAKE saved seven members of the crew of the SINCERITY ACE, a car carrier which caught fire in extreme weather conditions some 1,800 nm from Oahu.
The GREEN LAKE was the first vessel to respond to a Coast Guard alert that went out in the pre-dawn hours of Dec. 31: the master of the SINCERITY ACE, a 2009-built car carrier sailing from Yokohama to Oahu, had reported a serious vessel fire, ongoing firefighting efforts and the intent to abandon ship.
The crew had been able to launch one life raft and four of the 21 mariners on board were said to have abandoned ship with lifejackets, but the Coast Guard could not confirm whether they had reached the life raft upon entering the water or not.
The officers and crew of the MV GREEN LAKE–later joined by more “good Samaritans” aboard three other merchant ships, and the crews of a Coast Guard Hercules HC130 aircraft and a Navy 7th Fleet P-8 Poseidon–spent the next 18 hours battling high winds and rough seas in a search for the missing mariners.
The licensed deck officers aboard MV GREEN LAKE, which is operated by SEACOR, are members of MM&P.
The engineers are represented by the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA) and the unlicensed crewmembers belong to the Seafarers’ International Union (SIU).
“The entire crew did a truly incredible job under extreme conditions,” said Captain William Boyce.
“Winds were blowing a steady 25 knots, gusting to 30 knots, with a heavy 20-25 ft NW’ly swell.”
“Due to the sea state and our high freeboard, it was very difficult to maneuver, bring the ship alongside each survivor, and get them on board with limited retrieval resources.”
“MM&P members Chief Mate Kevin Camarda handled retrieval, Second Mate Chelsea Martin handled communications, documentation, telegraph and sat phone calls with incredible multi-tasking ability, and Third Mate Matthew Morgan assisted on bow as lookout/spotter.”
“MEBA Chief Engineer Joseph Tierney, First Engineer Shauna Glasser, Second Engineer Zac Pollock and Third Engineer Maria Asuncion assisted in retrieval and constant maneuvering for 18 straight hours.”
“The entire SIU deck crew and bosun worked tirelessly from 0200 to 2000 to get the exhausted survivors on board.”
“Deck Cadet Chris Cashman assisted as our triage medical person and Engine Cadet Jeffery Attardi assisted working telegraph on the bridge.”
“The crew showed incredible perseverance, teamwork and determination,” Boyce said, “constantly improvising with each survivor’s recovery in very difficult and dangerous conditions.”
“I am proud of each and every one of this crew for saving seven souls that had experienced horrific conditions and were exhausted.”
Boyce said survivors had reported that they had been trapped on the boat deck forward due to the heavy smoke, with decks so hot they melted the survival suit bags.
“They had to abandon ship one by one via man ropes 100 ft to water into very rough seas,” he said.
Overall, rescuers aboard the four merchant vessels that responded to the disaster were able to rescue 16 members of the SINCERITY ACE crew.
It was not possible to recover the other five.
The Coast Guard, Navy, and good Samaritans aboard the merchant ships conducted a total of 13 searches covering 5,544 nautical square miles over a span of three days in the hunt for the missing crewmembers.
“We are very grateful for the assistance the crews of these vessels have given during the search and rescue efforts,” said a spokesperson for the Coast Guard.
“These crewmembers went out of their way to aid their fellow mariners, and because of the remoteness of the incident, the outcome may have been very different had they not responded.”
At the conclusion of the rescue operation, the GREEN LAKE diverted to Honolulu to disembark the survivors.
The SINCERITY ACE remains abandoned and adrift. At last report, it was listing to starboard and still on fire.
Panama’s maritime authorities released a statement saying they are investigating the tragedy.
This article originally appeared in the 8 January 2019 issue of Wheelhouse Weekly, a weekly publication from the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots. It is republished here with permission.