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SHIP NAME: Marine Electric KEY: NUM. ENTRIES: 7
source IMO
type A
volume
material
dead 33
link

Reported took water through forward hatches, capsized and sank during heavy weather 30 miles off Chincoteague Is. on 12/2/83. Crew at USCG enquiry alleged hatch covers to have been rusted, warped and with improper gaskets and lacked wedges to force panels together. Owners however maintain anchor swung free and holed the hull. Crew abandoned ship as bow went under. Vessel capsized and sank 90 minutes later. 24 bodies recovered, 9 missing. 3 survivors taken to hospital.


source Japan FSA
type A
volume
material
dead 33
link

Hatch cover had been non-tight due to poor maintenance. FPT holed due to anchor hit. [not true, see below] No 1 hold flooded and capsized and sank. Coal loaded.


source HOOKE
type A
volume
material
dead 33
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A total of 33 crewmen died when the 39 year old American turbo-electric bulk carrier Marine Electric capsized and sank of the Virginia coast about 30 miles of Chincoteague Island in lat 37.52N long 74.46W on February 12, 1983, during gale force weather conditions. She had been on a voyage from Hampton Roads to Boston, loaded with 27,000 tons of coal. There were only three survivors, all of whom were plucked from near-freezing water to be flown by helicopter to a hospital in Salisbury, maryland.


source UNK
type D
volume
material
dead 31
link

SS Marine Electric, a 605-foot bulk carrier, sank on February 12, 1983, about 30 miles off the coast of Virginia, in 130 feet of water. Thirty-one of the 34 crew members were killed; the three survivors endured hours drifting in the frigid waters of the Atlantic. The wreck resulted in some of the most important maritime reforms in the second half of the 20th century. The tragedy tightened inspection standards, resulted in mandatory survival suits for winter North Atlantic runs, and helped create the now famous Coast Guard rescue swimmer program.

The Marine Electric began its life as a T2 tanker, constructed for the United States Merchant Marine. The ship was originally named the SS Musgrove Mills and was built in May of 1944 by Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock Company. She was built as hull number 437 and USMC number 1770. In 1947, she was sold and became the SS Gulfmills. A new mid-section for cargo transport was added in November 1962 in a West German shipyard, at which time she was renamed the Marine Electric. She was subsequently purchased and managed by Marine Transport Lines (MTL). However, the Marine Electric was showing its age, exhibiting corrosion and damage to the hull and other structural components.

The Marine Electric put to sea for her final voyage on February 10, sailing from Norfolk, Virginia to Somerset, Massachusetts with a cargo of 24,800 tons of granulated coal. The ship sailed through a fierce (and ultimately record-breaking) storm that was gathering.

The Marine Electric neared the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay at about 2:00 a.m. on Thursday, February 10. She battled 25-foot (7.6-m) waves and winds gusting to more than 55 mph.

The following day, she was contacted by the United States Coast Guard to turn back to assist a fishing vessel, the Theodora, that was taking on water. The Theodora eventually recovered and proceeded on its westerly course back to Virginia; the Marine Electric turned north to resume its original route.

During the course of the investigation into the ship’s sinking, representatives of MTL theorized that the ship ran aground during her maneuvering to help the Theodora, fatally damaging the hull. They contended that it was this grounding that caused the Marine Electric to sink five hours later.

But Coast Guard investigations, and independent examinations of the wreck, told a different story: the Marine Electric left port in an un-seaworthy condition, with gaping holes in its deck plating and hatch covers. The hatch covers, in particular, posed a problem, since without them the cargo hold could fill with water in the storm and drag the ship under. And it was there that the investigation took a second, dramatic turn.

Investigators discovered that much of the paperwork supporting MTL's declarations that the Marine Electric was seaworthy was faked. Inspection records showed inspections of the hatch covers during periods where they'd in fact been removed from the ship for maintenance; inspections were recorded during periods of time when the ship wasn't even in port. A representative of the hatch covers' manufacturer warned MTL in 1982 that their condition posed a threat to the ship’s seaworthiness. But inspectors never tested them. And yet, the Marine Electric was repeatedly certified as seaworthy.

Part of the problem was that the Coast Guard delegated some of its inspection authority to the American Bureau of Shipping. The ABS is a private, non-profit agency that developed rules, standards and guidelines for ship's hulls. In the wake of the Marine Electric tragedy, questions were raised about how successfully the ABS was exercising the inspection authority delegated to it, as well as about whether the Coast Guard even had the authority to delegate that role. Also there was a conflict of interest in that the inspection fees paid to the ABS were paid by the ship owners.

In the wake of the Marine Electric investigation, the Coast Guard dramatically changed their inspection and oversight procedures. [not true, see below] The Coast Guard report noted that the ABS, in particular, "cannot be considered impartial", and described their failure to notice the critical problems with the ship as negligent. At the same time, the report noted that "the inexperience of the inspectors who went aboard the Marine Electric, and their failure to recognize the safety hazards...raises doubt about the capabilities of the Coast Guard inspectors to enforce the laws and regulations in a satisfactory manner."

While the Coast Guard commandant did not accept all of the recommendations of the Marine Board report, inspections tightened and more than 70 old World War II relics still functioning 40 years after the war were sent to scrap yards.

Additionally, the Coast Guard required that survival suits be required on all winter North Atlantic runs. Later, as a direct result of the casualties on the Marine Electric, Congress pushed for and the Coast Guard eventually established the now famous Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer program.

Though the safety of sailors at sea improved in the wake of the Marine Electric tragedy, those improvements in safety came at the expense of 31 lives, condemned to a watery grave by poor maintenance and inadequate governmental oversight.

Bob Cusick, the Chief Mate of the Marine Electric, credits The Mary Ellen Carter, a folk song by Canadian Stan Rogers, with helping him to survive a cold night in the frigid Atlantic waters. The Marine Transport Lines attorneys attempted to blame Cusick for the wreck but Coast Guard Captain Dominic Calicchio destroyed that line of thinking by showing the company officials were aware of the ship problems. The company was charged with and pleaded guilty to a felony count of violating safety standards. It paid a small fine. Calicchio, who bucked the Coast Guard establishment as an aggressive investigator, retired shortly after the hearing and generally was seen as having sacrificed his career by exposing the Coast Guard's failures to inspect properly. He was awarded the Plimsoll Award for maritime safety posthumously in recognition of his courage and sacrifice.


source Frump, Until the Sea Shall Free Them
type D
volume
material
dead 33
link

Frump was the lead reporter for an expose by the Philadephia Inquirer on the US Merchant Marine based largely on the loss of the Marine Electric. The central role is played by the surviving Chief Mate Cusick, who broke industry code and testified to the horrible condition of the hatch covers and the surrounding deck. and the fact that this was known to the the owners, ABS, and the USCG. They had even painted lines on the deck around the worst corrosion. Cusick through the Captain had repeatedly sent sketches to the owner. In January 1981, ABS had issued a Loadline Certificate claiming the hatch covers had been inspected, but the hatch covers were not even on the ship at the time. The hatch cover manufacturer also warned MTL the hatch covers were not seaworthy. Apparently during the 1981 docking, some modifications were made which resulted in the hatch covers not fitting properly, the gaskets were the wrong material and too short.

In the winter of 1982, one of the crew asked the USCG to inspect the deck while she was in a yard in Rhode Island. Apparently this was done (Frump is unclear here) and the RI USCG office forwarded a complaint to DC, but nothing happened.

In Force 10 weather, the bow started sinking. The ER reported that the starboard (presumably double bottom) tanks had water, and the ship started to list ot starboard. They could not pump from the cargo hold since MTL had blanked off the pump suctions to keep coal out of the pumps. The engine room also reported water in No 1 port. The list to starboard got worse, so they tried counterflooding. But it didn't work, as they were launching the starboard lifeboat, the Marine Electirc capsized to starboard, throwing everybody on deck into the water, and trapping the ER crew.

Early on the owners, MTL, contended the ship had hit bottom a day earlier when she turned around to assist a fishing vessel. But this story was demolished when it was established she had been in 96 feet of water at the time. MTL later admitted that there was no evidence of such a grounding.

MTL then hired an underwater robot and took video of the area around the starboard anchor. They concluded, on the basis that one of the turnbuckles had only a couple of threads in the body and holes on the hull that the starboard anchor had not been properly secured, had 'flailed around' and holed the FP, and that was what sunk the ship. This too was demolished when it was pointed out that depending on the length of the chain the anchor could have been snugged up with the turnbuckle in this position and far more importantly, if the anchor had come loose, it would have fallen straight to the bottom. There was no way it could have swung up and hit the hull above the hawsepipe as MTL claimed, while the ship was still afloat.

A very unusual feature of this Marine Board of Investigation was that one of three members, Dom Calicchio, was an ex-Merchant Mariner. He was instrumental in demolishing MTL's attempt to blame the Mate with the obviously fraudulent anchor story. He pushed through a strong report recommending among other things that USCG not use the obviously conflicted ABS for inspections, and that the inspections be performed by a new independent body not the USCG. This was quite different from the normal MBOI report which almost always went out of its way to blame the crew and exonerate the owners. Frump believes this was due partly because if an American ship were in bad condition, it made the USCG's inspection efforts look bad, partly because top brass desperately wanted a US Merchant Marine and did not want to put additional economic pressures on US owners, and partly because ABS was looked on as a great second job by USCG inspectors. Calicchio's two recommendations went no where.

Calicchio retired from the USCG shortly after he forced publication of the report by threatening to go public with it himself.


source USCG MBOI
type D
volume
material
dead 33
link

This entry is adapted from Frump, pages 301-303, who quotes the MBOI report, as follows.

The Coast Guard inspector failed to insure that the requirements of the Load Line Regulation were met during the February, 1981 overhaul. It was incumbent upon him to insure the repairs to the hatch covers were sufficient and proper. Since the vessel did not meet the regulations, the inspector should have taken steps to revoke the Load Line Certificate. The inspectors cited certain examinations as being made and found to be satisfactory when in fact they were never made.

The Coast Guard is an impartial agency, but the inexperience of the inspectors raises doubts about the capabilities of the Coast Guard inspectors to enforce the laws and regulations in a satisfactory matter.

The American Bureau of Shipping surveyor issued the Load Line Certificate in Jacksonville, 1981, without inspecting the hatch covers, a major component of the Load Line Survey. In spite of the surveyor's recollection of examining the hatch covers, the covers were not placed on-board until the day before the ship sailed. The inspection made was incomplete and misleading in that the records show the vessel to meet all applicable Load Line regulations when in fact it did not. Even though the ABS surveyor had 30 years experience, his inspection was incomplete and his report was inaccurate, in that the cargo holds were noted as satisfactory when they were never entered, and the hatch covers met the Load Line Regulations and ABS Rules, when they were in a deteriorated, non-weather tight state. ABS surveys and visits are oriented toward the protecting the best insterests of marine insurance underwriters and not for the enforcement of Federal safety statutes and regulations. Since the cost of these surveys and visits is borne by the owners, the attending surveyor is subject to the influence of such persons.

By virtue of its relationship to the vessel owners, the ABS cannot be considered impartial. Their negligence raises questions about the professional integrity of their surveys.

The ship was poorly managed and horribly maintained with respect to the hatch covers, main deck, and holes in the cargo hold area caused during off-loading. The hatch covers were wasted, holed, deteriorated, epoxy patched, deflected, weakened, and missing securing devices and cross-joint wedges. At no time was the Coast Guard notified by the owners of the hatch cover or hull repairs made after February, 1981 as required. At no time did the owners notify the regulatory bodies of the approximately 95 wasted areas on the hatch covers that were noted in the Chief Mate's sketches.


source CTX
type D
volume
material
dead 33
link

The link to the USCG Marine Board of Investigation report is broken, dont know why.

The ship was a turbo electic T2 built in 1944, jumboized and converted to a bulk carrier in 1962.

CTX finds Frump's account a little overly dramatized, but basically correct, and certainly consistent with the way the industry is regulated. Cusick and Calicchio are indeed heros, extremely rare beacons of morality in an industy that has no place for such behavior.

But Frump over-looks the fact that the engine room reported they had good suction on the starboard double bottom tanks and then later 1P. Clearly there was flooding into the double bottom before the ship sank. This is what caused the list. Probably, corrosion. Cusick had 'repaired' one hole in the hull with a coffee can lid. Interestingly the ER did not mention the FP tank.

Frump talks a lot about tired iron. There is no such thing. You can have corrosion, you can have fatigue cracking; but, if you have neither, 20, 40, 80 year old steel is as good as new. The problems in the Marine Electric were not in the 40 year old T2 portion of the hull, but in the 11 year old mid-section.

Frump argues that this casualty generated reforms which totally turned around the regulation of the US Merchant Marine. It is true that most of the remaining T2 based ships were scrapped in the mid-80's; but the CTX doubts that the Marine Electric had much to do with this. In fact, the USCG has turned over even more of its responsibilities to ABS. and ABS's rules are now weaker than they were in the early 80's.

Frump argues that there have been no US flag catastrophic hull failures since the Marine Electric. In fact the American flag tankers in the Alaskan trade have experienced thousands, probably tens of thousands, of hull cracks, often in new or nearly new ships. ABS knew about this cracking and did nothing. USCG knew about this cracking and did nothing. It was hull cracks that resulted in the explosion and loss of the 1981 built Surf City in 1990, killing two and generating a 30,000 m3 spill.