In Too Deep

Four years ago a dangerous chemical tanker ran aground in Biscayne National Park. The salvage operation that followed would go down in history.

On Thursday, November 21, they dumped the ballast water. After fifteen days, at 2:47 p.m., the Igloo Moon floated off the ocean floor and was led out to sea. Fairbanks and the Titan crew were now in the tanker business. They had to get the butadiene to Houston to sell it. It wasn't safe to take the Igloo Moon there directly and no U.S. port close by would allow the damaged vessel in. So while the Selma Kosan made fast to Houston to deliver what she held in her hold, the Igloo Moon sailed to Freeport, Bahamas. The Selma Kosan did one more trip back and forth.

With the cargo gone and salvage master Guy Wood still in the wheelhouse, they towed the Igloo Moon to a shipyard in Tampa. Phil Reed, who worked out of the shipyard, remembers watching with his three-year-old son as the big ship was brought in. Over the next four months, workers gave the Igloo Moon a new steel bottom, and then sent it back out to sea.


The captain of the Igloo Moon was shaken awake when his ship hit bottom
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The captain of the Igloo Moon was shaken awake when his ship hit bottom
The captain of the Igloo Moon was shaken awake when his ship hit bottom
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The captain of the Igloo Moon was shaken awake when his ship hit bottom

Fallout from the Igloo Moon continued long after the ship left dry dock in Tampa. When the crew returned to Germany, a Maritime Board of Inquiry convened in Bremen to conduct an investigation into the incident. During the inquiry the chief mate admitted he had fallen asleep, something he neglected to tell the Coast Guard during the salvage effort.

The Coast Guard conducted its own investigation. Their report concluded that “the overall management of the watches on the Igloo Moon lacked discipline and strict adherence ... to good maritime practices.” Although the investigation uncovered inadequate staffing, it did not find “a willful violation of law.” The investigator made the recommendation that the Coast Guard should develop and promote regulations that require the use of bridge monitoring systems, shallow-water alarms, continuous automatic plotters, and waypoint alarms for vessels in the Straits of Florida.

Coast Guard headquarters disagreed. Sufficient equipment existed, it just wasn't used properly, argued the Coast Guard commander. “The core of the problem appears to be fatigue and improper watchstanding,” wrote W.D. Rabe, chief of the Investigations Division of the U.S. Coast Guard's Washington, D.C., headquarters. “Sufficient manning requirements, addressing fatigue and work-hour limits, are where we should be focusing our efforts.”

At the present time the U.S. Department of Justice is trying to recover damages to Biscayne National Park from the insurance company that represents the owners of the Igloo Moon. Lawyers with the Department of Justice waited three years before filing the lawsuit, claiming the ship destroyed 492 meters of coral reef habitat. The government is asking for a total of $2,063,086.36 for reef and sea-grass repairs. The two sides currently are reviewing each other's documents. A pretrial conference is scheduled for January 2001.

Within three months of the Igloo Moon incident, the Titan crew was back at work. A tanker loaded with crude oil, the San Jorge, had hit an unchartered reef off the coast of Uruguay. The cargo tanks had ruptured, spilling oil. Titan's task: Remove the remaining oil, stabilize the vessel, and ready it for towing.

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