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Precis File
SHIP NAME: Marine Sulphur Queen KEY: NUM. ENTRIES: 5
source HOOKE
type A
volume
material
dead 39
link


source TIME, 19630308
type A
volume
material
dead 39
link

The ship was a firetrap. Former crewmen, along with a few who had been on vacation when the Queen sailed on its last voyage, testified that leaks occurred regularly in spaces beneath and at the sides of the four big sulphur tanks. Recurring fires in those places had become so commonplace that the ship's officers even gave up sounding the fire alarm. Emitting a gaseous, rotten-egg stink, the fires burned on and on. When the flames were extinguished, the sulphur cooled, hardened, and caked at the ship's pumps, corroded electrical equipment, and on at least one occasion shorted out the main generator.

Once, the Queen actually sailed into a New Jersey port with fires smoldering, unloaded her cargo, and sailed off again—still burning. The crewmen were in constant fear and complained to their union. A furloughed crewman, Able Seaman Zack Booth, a huge fellow known to his friends as "Big Brother," testified that one sailor, now missing, told him: "Big Brother, we are about to burn our house down."

The Queen had other troubles. Second Mate David Fike told of a ruptured steam coil in one of the tanks, of inoperative automatic temperature gauges, and of worn packing around the screw. Though the ship was scheduled for a drydock inspection in January, the visit was postponed. The Queen, one of the T-2 tankers of World War II vintage, had a characteristic "weak back," and had to be checked carefully for keel fractures. The drydock inspection was postponed, said Fike, because Texas Gulf Sulphur Co., to whom the ship was chartered, "was behind in its orders of sulphur. The captain was surprised and disappointed."

Said Mrs. Adam Martin, wife of an engineer whose first voyage aboard the Queen was also his last: "I never wanted to be a seaman's wife, but he had to earn a living. I came to see him off. The poor soul. I felt sorry for him when he first saw his new ship. It looked like an old garbage can afloat."


source USCG_MBOI
type A
volume
material
dead 39
link http://homeport.uscg/mil/mycg/portal/ep/

The official USCG investigation.


source Marine Sulphur Queen Litigation
type A
volume
material
dead 39
link http://home.pacbell.net/corwind.court.html

Appeals court ruling denying owner Marine Transport Lines (MTL) and Bethlement Steel limitation of liability, upholding lower court rulling that ship was not seaworthy, both due to design deficiencies and the fact the ship was very slightly overloaded. Interestingly, ABS which had approved the conversion design and surveyed the actual conversion was not involved.


source CTX
type A
volume
material C
dead 39
link

The Marine Sulphur Queen was originally a 1944 built T2, the Esso New Haven. She was converted to a molten sulphur carrier by Marine Transport Lines in 1961. The sulphur needed to be kept at a temperature of about 270F. The conversion involved cutting out just about all the transverse bulkheads and installing a 306 ft long, 30.5 ft wide by 33 ft high, free standing tank which could expand longitudinally. The tank was divided into four holds. The Marine Sulphur Queen was a double hull, albeit a rather unusual one.

The MSQ was loaded from Beaumont to Norfolk, VA. The last word from the ship was at 0125 local on 19630204. She failed to respond to radio contacts at 1123 on the 4th. At the time she was probably about 100 miles west of Key West. The weather was 25 knot winds from the north, gusting to 45.

Extensive search founds only a few lifejackets and bits of debris. There was no sign of explosion; but the life jackets showed signs of shark attack.

The USCG MBOI investigation revealed that

  1. The ship was routinely overloaded by a very slight amount resulting in sag numerals slightly higher than the recommended max of 100. At the time of the sinking, the sag numeral was 101. The MBOI concluded -- correctly in CTX's opinion -- that this amount of over-loading had little effect on the casualty. However, the courts gave this illegality a lot of weight.
  2. The conversion resulted in the cargo being concentrated near the center of roll. The reduction in roll radius of gyration resulted in a roll period of about 8 seconds, which could have been synchronized with the period of the beam seas resulting in a capsize, despite plenty of initial stability. The MBOI, without apparently much analysis, treats this as a low probability scenario. [CTX agrees, however, rapid rolling would have increased dynamic stresses in the hull.]
  3. The conversion resulted in a reduction of racking strength, which may have been a factor in the sinking. In terms of design section modulus, the conversion actually ended up slightly higher than original, and replaced a great deal of presumably wasted steel with new steel. [At the time the designers had both no experience with such an unusal structure nor the analytical capability of estimating the resulting stress distribution.]
  4. The ship had a history of sulfur leaks, especially in way of Hold 4 at the aft end of tanks. This sulfur leaked into the wing tanks, impregnating the insulation, which routinely caught fire. (Nobody knows why, maybe some reaction between the cargo and something in the insulation.) The crew treated these very low intensity fires as almost commonplace events putting them out with steam smothering or water spray. Solidified sulfur built up in the bilges of the wing tanks
  5. The MBOI had a number of tests done, which while not conclusive indicated it was unlikely that a sulfur-based explosion happened, and, if it did happen, would have been very unlikely to sink the ship, let alone quickly sink it. [CTX concurs. This conclusion is also supported by the condition of the debris.]
  6. Both USCG and ABS did a mid-period survey in February 1962. But the MBOI report says almost nothing about these inspections, other than the ship passed. Without giving any details, it does say in passing that the USCG inspectors treated the ships as if she was a normal tanker.
  7. The MBOI ends up by saying we don't know what happened but we need to be a lot more careful in approving this sort of conversion in the future.

The CTX finds the MBOI report very disappointing. There is absolutely nothing on the condition of the 17 year old hull steel, despite the fact that the USCG and ABS had done a biennial survey a year earlier. Both the USCG and ABS survey reports must have commented on the steel condition. If they did not, this would be malfeasance of the first rank.

MTL was not an owner that was known for maintaining steel. The Time article was accurate in at least that regard. See Marine Electric.

Were the wing tanks (strangely called void spaces by the MBOI) coated? The report does not say. Almost certainly not; but now all the wing tanks were being used for ballast every trip without any chance of getting an oil coating. They needed to do this to get the ship deep into the water at the loading terminal.

On top of that we are regularly leaking sulfur into this space and then extinguishing the resuslting fires with water, generating a build up of sulphuric acid in the double bottom. It is hard to imagine a more corrosive environment. Apparently, no witnesses were asked to testify about this issue.

Finally, if the wing tanks had flooded from a shell failure, there was now only one watertight bulkhead (at frame 59) in the whole double bottom/double side cargo section. A normal T2 would have eight watertight bulkheads. Would flooding of half the void space sink the ship. CTX guesses to would have. In any event, this weakness should have been an obvious focus of the MBOI.

CTX does not know why the MBOI so carefully stayed away from these issues. But CTX strongly suspects that the shell steel was in bad condition, failed in the heavy weather, whereupon the lack of compartmentation quickly sank the ship.