“The shipwreck that changed the Coast Guard forever” –5th District Public Affairs

The following is a 5th District press release quoted in full.

The shipwreck that changed the Coast Guard forever

This video outlines the Marine Electric shipwreck and the incident’s lasting impact on the Coast Guard.  

Editors’ Note: Click on images to download high resolution version.

Story and artwork by Petty Officer 2nd Class Corinne Zilnicki

When the clock tolled 12 a.m. on Feb. 12, 1983, the 605-foot cargo ship Marine Electric trekked northward 30 miles off Virginia’s Eastern Shore, plowing slowly through the gale-force winds and waves stirred up by a winter storm.

An able-bodied seaman relieved the watch and peered forward, noticing for the first time that the ship’s bow seemed to be riding unusually low in the water. Dense curls of green ocean rushed over the bow, some of

them arching 10 feet over the deck before crashing back down. The crew had been battling 25-foot waves for hours, but until now, the bow had bucked and dipped as normal.

Now it seemed only to dip.

Over the next two hours, the waves intruded with increasing vigor. The entire foredeck was swallowed in 6 feet of water. The main deck was completely awash.

At 2:30 a.m., the ship’s master, Phillip Corl, summoned his chief mate, Robert Cusick, to the bridge and shared his fears: the bow was settling, they were taking on too much water, and the crew was in real trouble.

At 2:51 a.m., the captain made the first radio distress call to the Coast Guard.

“I seem to be taking on water forward,” Corl said. “We need someone to come out and give us some assistance, if possible.”

By the time assistance arrived, the Marine Electric had listed, rolled violently to starboard, and capsized, hurling most of its 34 crew into the 37-degree water. Chaos ensued.

Chief mate Cusick surfaced with a gasp, managed to get his bearings, and spotted a partially-submerged lifeboat nearby. After swimming through towering waves for 30 minutes, he pulled himself into the swamped boat and started thrashing his legs to stay warm.

“All the time I kept looking out and yelling out, ‘lifeboat here,’ just continually yelling out to keep myself going,” the chief mate said. “Then I waited and prayed for daylight to come.”

The Coast Guard had long since dispatched an HH-3F Pelican helicopter crew from Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and directed the crews of several cutters to the Marine Electric’s position, but the tumultuous weather conditions slowed the rescuers’ progress.

Naval Air Station Oceana had to recall available personnel before launching a helicopter crew, including rescue swimmer Petty Officer 2nd Class James McCann.

At 5:20 a.m., the Coast Guard helicopter crew was the first to arrive on scene. They had expected to find the Marine Electric’s sailors tucked into lifeboats and rafts, but instead, they found a blinking sea of strobe lights, empty lifeboats, and bodies strewn below.

The Navy aircrew arrived and deployed McCann, who tore through the oil-slicked waves, searching for survivors. He managed to recover five unresponsive sailors before hypothermia incapacitated him.

The Coast Guard crew scoured the southern end of the search area and discovered one man, Paul Dewey, alone in a life raft. They dropped the rescue basket so he could clamber inside, then hoisted him into the helicopter. About 30 yards away, they spotted Eugene Kelly, the ship’s third mate, clinging to a life ring, and lowered the basket to retrieve him.

Cusick remained huddled in his lifeboat until the sailors aboard the Berganger, a Norwegian merchant vessel whose crew was helping search the area, sighted him and notified the Coast Guard. The helicopter crew retrieved him in the rescue basket, then took off for Salisbury, Maryland, to bring the three survivors to Peninsula Regional Medical Center.

Meanwhile, more Coast Guard and Navy rescue crews converged on the scene to search for survivors.

Coast Guard Capt. Mont Smith, the operations officer at Air Station Elizabeth City, had piloted a second Pelican helicopter through turbulent headwinds for over an hour in order to reach the site.

He and his crew scanned the debris field below for signs of life. The people they saw were motionless, and it was difficult to determine whether they were simply too hypothermic to move, or deceased. Smith spotted one man and hovered over him, squinting through the whipping snow, trying to decide what to do.

“We all felt helpless,” Smith said. “There was no way to know if the man was dead or alive. We had to try something.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Greg Pesch, the avionics electrical technician aboard the helicopter, volunteered to go down on the hoist cable. After some deliberation, Smith agreed.

Pesch’s descent in the rescue basket was a harrowing one.

“The whole world seemed to be churning,” Smith said. “I struggled to maintain a smooth hoist, but I know it was erratic.”

Once in the water, Pesch grappled with the basket, trying to hold it steady as he guided the unresponsive man inside. It took several attempts, and then he scrambled into the basket himself and ascended back to the helicopter alongside the victim.

The aircrew spotted another potential survivor, and although Pesch attempted to descend again, the hoist cable spooled back on itself on the drum. The crew was forced to abort their mission and departed for nearby Salisbury Airport, where the man they had pulled from the water was pronounced dead on arrival by paramedics.

Dewey, Kelly and Cusick were the only men pulled from the ocean alive that morning. Their 31 shipmates had either succumbed to hypothermia or drowned.

All told, Coast Guard, Navy, and merchant vessel crews recovered 24 bodies from the scene of the capsizing. Seven were never found. It is likely the ship’s engineers were trapped belowdecks when the vessel capsized.

“Throughout Coast Guard history, the missions of the service have been written in blood,” said Dr. William Thiesen, historian, Coast Guard Atlantic Area. “Such was the case with the loss of the Marine Electric. This tragic event led to stricter marine safety regulations and the establishment of the Coast Guard’s premiere rescue swimmer program.”

While the incident itself served as the catalyst for the major changes to the Coast Guard and maritime community at large, the rigorous efforts of Coast Guard Capt. Domenic Calicchio brought the necessity for such changes into sharper focus.

Calicchio was one of the three marine safety officers charged with investigating the capsizing and sinking of the Marine Electric. The board of inquiry launched their investigation on July 25, 1984, and examined every aspect of the WWII-era cargo ship, its upkeep, the events leading up to its demise, and the Coast Guard’s rescue efforts on that morning.

The investigation revealed that although the Marine Electric had been recently inspected several times by both the American Bureau of Shipping and the Coast Guard, marine inspectors had failed to note several discrepancies or recommend needed repairs. Investigators concluded that the casualty had most likely been caused by inadequate cargo hatches and deck plating, which allowed the crashing waves to flood the vessel’s forward spaces.

Calicchio felt the Coast Guard needed to revamp its marine safety procedures and demand more of maritime companies, but more importantly, that the Coast Guard needed to demand more of itself.

His push for reform resulted in several additions to the Coast Guard’s marine safety protocol, including guidance on hatch cover inspections, and new requirements for enclosed lifeboats and their launching systems, for ships’ owners to provide crews with cold water survival suits, and for flooding alarms to be installed in unmanned spaces on vessels.

The Coast Guard also tightened its inspections of 20-year or older ships, which led to the near-immediate scrapping of 70 similar WWII-era vessels.

“Calicchio embodied the service’s core values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty,” said Thiesen. “He championed marine safety and pursued the truth even at the risk of his career of a Coast Guard officer.”

While the Coast Guard changed many policies to make a safer marine environment after the the sinking of the Marine Electric, the service continues to make improvements on its marine safety program today. By 2025, it is estimated that the demand for waterborne commerce worldwide will more than double. The Coast Guard has published its Maritime Commerce Strategic Outlook in preparation for the increasing demand. 

The Marine Electric shipwreck also served as the genesis of another crucial development: the Coast Guard rescue swimmer program, which was established in 1984. The program’s physical fitness standards, training and organizational structure were developed over a five-year implementation period, and in March of 1985, Air Station Elizabeth City became the first unit to receive rescue swimmers.

The first life was saved two months later.

The Marine Electric, a 605-foot cargo ship, as seen underway before its capsizing and sinking on Feb. 12, 1983. The converted WWII-era ship foundered 30 miles off the coast of Virginia and capsized, throwing most of its 34 crew into 37-degree water, where 31 of them drowned or succumbed to hypothermia. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

RAFNAR Hull –A New Kind of Hull For Reduced Slamming

gCaptain had a report on this new hull form, which a University of Iceland study found reduced slamming as much as 95% compared to a deep-v hull. It explains the development of the hull, I needed more information to understand how it worked.

The company website has many much clearer photographs as well as the video above.

Claimed advantages are:

  • Exceptionally smooth and comfortable due to limited slam on waves.
  • Significantly reduced slamming results in less mechanical and equipment fatigue, extending the lifetime of expensive electronic equipment on board.
  • Greater on-board safety from significantly reduced slamming means reduced risk of injury, lower crew & passenger fatigue and related costs
  • Precision performance without compromising cruising or top speed.
  • Immediate handling response with no sliding
  • No wake created behind vessel, resulting in less water disturbance
  • Exceptional stability and balance when idle and at speed
  • High payload capacity without compromising cruising or top speed

Could this concept be scaled up for a Motor Surf Boat? Apparently the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue is already looking into the possibility of a 15 meter (49 foot) MLB.

Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention

 

“Coast Guard, DHS S&T Venture into Space with Polar Scout Launch” –CG-9

The Coast Guard Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation Program, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, launched two 6U CubeSats from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, as part of the Polar Scout project. Photo courtesy of SpaceX.

The following is a release from the Acquisitions Directorate

Coast Guard Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) Program, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), today launched two 6U CubeSats from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The launch is part of the Polar Scout project to evaluate the effectiveness of space-based sensors in support of Arctic search and rescue missions. Knowledge gained from this demonstration will be used to inform satellite technology recommendations for many potential applications within the Coast Guard and across DHS.

Jim Knight, the Coast Guard deputy assistant commandant for acquisition, said in ceremonies leading up to the launch, “The Polar Scout project presents an opportunity to evaluate the most efficient way to ensure that the United States can project surface presence in the Arctic when and where it is needed while filling an immediate Search and Rescue capability gap in these remote areas.”

The CubeSats, dubbed Yukon and Kodiak, were launched into a low-earth polar orbit on a rideshare with other spacecraft from 17 different countries. This economical alternative to a costly single-mission launch ensured dozens of spacecraft from various organizations reached orbit. Success of the mission was due to public and private sector collaboration throughout the process, from developing the CubeSats to propelling them into space.

“In order to demonstrate, test and evaluate the viability and utility of CubeSats for Coast Guard missions, the Coast Guard RDT&E Program has partnered with DHS S&T to conduct on-orbit testing of CubeSats using the Mobile CubeSat Command and Control (MC3) ground network,” said Holly Wendelin, command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance domain lead.

Developed as a potential capability bridge between the current 20-year-old international search-and-rescue architecture and its future successor, “CubeSats serve as a much smaller, more cost-efficient solution that can be easily implemented over a short period of time. Each are only about the size of a shoebox,” said John McEntee, director of Border Immigration and Maritime at S&T.

In the 18 months leading up to the launch, DHS S&T handled the fabrication of Yukon and Kodiak, which are tailored specifically to detect 406 MHz emergency distress beacons. At the same time, the Coast Guard Research and Development Center (RDC) deployed two ground stations – one at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, and one at University of Alaska Fairbanks – using the MC3 architecture and network. The ground stations will receive all of the signals from the CubeSats during the demonstration.

DHS will begin testing and demonstrations using emergency distress beacons in the Arctic beginning in early 2019 and continuing through the summer. “The demonstrations will include downlinking 406 MHz emergency distress beacon data from the CubeSats using the deployed MC3 ground stations,” Wendelin said. “We will set the beacons off, the satellite should detect it and send signals back to the ground station.” The testing period is expected to provide critical knowledge on how CubeSat technology can be used to enhance Coast Guard and DHS mission performance.

The Polar Scout project is providing valuable insight on the process, cost and feasibility of acquiring and using organic satellites. The Coast Guard and DHS will use the knowledge gained from Polar Scout and the MC3 installs, market research and space mission design and assessments to develop satellite technology recommendations.

As Coast Guard missions become more challenging and complex, the use of small and inexpensive satellites has the potential for great impact. Potential uses for satellites include improving communication in the arctic environment, monitoring large areas for illegal activity and helping to locate persons lost at sea. Additionally, the use of satellites has the potential to reduce the time and resources spent on intensive aircraft searches as well as the risks associated with placing personnel in hazardous situations that only need sensors and communications on scene.

“Undoubtedly, the results and knowledge gained by the Polar Scout Satellite Project will lead to force-multiplying solutions for the Department, which is a big priority in this age of complex threat cycles,” said Bill Bryan, senior official performing the duties of undersecretary for the Science and Technology Directorate.

Through Polar Scout’s robust search-and-rescue satellite solution, the Coast Guard may be empowered to respond to maritime disasters with unprecedented speed, preserving lives and even cargo, along trade routes in the Arctic Circle.

Canada’s New 62 foot Motor Lifeboat

Canada is building twelve large, relatively fast, self-righting Motor Lifeboats. These are the “Bay” class and the first are now making an appearance.

Reportedly they will be “capable of safe operation in extreme weather up to Beaufort Force 12 conditions and are able to survive in 12 meter (40 foot) seas.”

This again brings to mind the fact that at some point we will need to replace the four 52 foot MLBs and we may also want to use the replacement class in other areas where exceptional seakeeping and longer range than the 47 footers is desirable. We did discuss this possibility earlier including some other alternatives and got lots of comments.

Chantier Naval Forillon and Hike Metal were awarded contracts totaling $89.2 million (Candian presumably, about $67.5M USD–Chuck} to build twelve of the new SAR lifeboats.

These self-righting, 20-meter (65.6 ft–Chuck) boats are powered by a pair of MTU 1600 HP marine Diesel engines providing a speed of up to 24 knots in extreme weather conditions. These vessels are primarily a day boat and will be operated by a crew of up to five Coast Guard seamen.

The vessel’s particulars are as follows:

  • Length overall: 19.0 metres
  • Length DWL: 17.5 metres
  • Beam, moulded: 6.3 metres
  • Depth, moulded, at midship: 2.58 metres
  • Hull draft, nominal: 1.67 metres
  • Power: 2,400 kW
  • Speed: 23.5 kts