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Precis File
SHIP NAME: Bow Mariner KEY: NUM. ENTRIES: 3
source USCG
type A
volume
material
dead
link http://www.uscg.mil/hq/gm/moq/docs/bowmar1.pdf

BOW MARINER (Singapore, 39821gt)’s investigation released 03-Jan-06 by USCG, about its explosion and sinking off the Virginia coast on 28-Feb-04 has disclosed that the captain abandoned ship without sending a distress call or trying to save his crew, and violating safety guidelines when he ordered vapor-filled 22 cargo tanks opened for cleaning while the ship was en route to Houston. It also concluded that the crew was poorly trained in safety procedures and that friction between the some ship's officers and crew members contributed to the death toll. The explosion involved the ignition of a fuel/air mixture. The tanker loaded methyl tert butyl ether in Al Jubail on 24-Jan-04, and unloaded part of it in New York had been carrying 3.1M gallons of the ethyl alcohol, along with 192,904 gallons of HFO and 48,266 gals of DO. Investigators said that ignition source probably came from one of the following: electrostatic discharge, mechanical sparks caused by metal-on-metal contact, faulty electrical equipment, hot soot or particles from the ship's smoke stack or funnel, or even sparks from changing batteries in a flashlight.

Because the tanks had not been washed or mechanically ventilated, the concentration of vapor was well above the "upper explosive limit" for methyl tert butyl ether. Opening all the cargo tank hatches permitted vapors to escape at deck level, exposing crewmembers to a greater risk of an explosion from an accidental spark. The ignition produced two major explosions less than 2 minutes apart that resulted in structural damage and flooding. The ship sank in 1 hour and 32 minutes. 3 died, 18 missing and 6 survived.

However, also contributing to the disaster "was the failure of the operator and ship officers to properly implement the company's and vessel's Safety, Quality and Environmental System. For example: Cargo tanks were not fixed in stationary positions or neutralized of their chemical activity as required; procedures for cleaning tanks were not followed; procedures for entering confined spaces were not followed; the failure of one of two required blowers used to disburse vapors was not reported; monthly fire drills were not conducted; training was scheduled and recorded in the minutes of a safety committee meeting but not actually held. "Because the tanks had not been washed or mechanically ventilated, the concentration of vapor was very high and certainly above the upper explosive limit for the MTBE," the report continues.

Investigators also cited significant culture problems between the European officers and Asian crew members. The Asians said they were treated with disrespect by the officers and were constantly threatened with being fired. The survivors clearly feared the officers, and each stated that they would obey any order from them, even if they knew the order to be unsafe. A messman, said the officers were verbally abusive and constantly threatened to send him home if he did not work harder or faster. There can be no question that such fear can lead to a shipboard culture where safety takes a backseat to preserving one's livelihood," the report said.


source USCG
type A
volume
material
dead 21
link

At 1805 on Saturday, February 28, 2004 the chemical tanker BOW MARINER caught fire and exploded while the crew was engaged in tank cleaning. The ship sank by the bow at 1937 in position 37-52.8N/074-15.3W, about 45 nautical miles east of Virginia. Of the 27 crewmembers aboard, six abandoned ship and were able to make it to an inflatable life raft and were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. An unknown number of other survivors abandoned ship to the water. The Coast Guard and Good Samaritan vessels recovered three crewmen from the water, one deceased. The other two died before reaching a hospital. 18 crewmen are missing and presumed dead. The vessel's cargo of ethyl alcohol (3,188,711 gallons) was released, along with the vessel's heavy fuel oil (192,904 gallons), diesel fuel (48,266 gallons) and slops (quantity unknown). See the investigating officer's narrative summary, attached as correspondence, for details.


source CTX
type D
volume 22000G
material
dead 0
link

Gisis has a nice summary of the USCG report.

The USCG link is the official report and it is a good one. This chemical tanker was carrying a cargo of Saudi Arabian MTBE. She had discharged her wing tanks at New York, but the center tanks were still loaded. It appears she was proceeding to the Chesapeake to discharge the rest of the cargo. The ship was equipped with an inert gas system, but it apparently was never used on this voyage. This seems to be standard operating procedure on this ship.

Upon leaving New York, the Master ordered all the wing tanks opened and begain stripping the tanks via lowering air driven pumps into the gas dangerous space. The crew did this with the aid of Scuba gear. This procedure was extremely dangerous and illegal. It was exacerbated by problems with the pump and problems with the eductors. At about 1800 on 2004-02-28, an explosion occured forward, followed by a series of other explosions. The ship sank at 1937 with the loss of 21 lives. The USCG was unable to determine the exact source of ingnition.

The USCG report correctly blames the Captain for following a horribly dangerous tank cleaning procedure. But it does not ask the question why? Why did he not strip the wing tanks in normal fashion using the eductors with a nitrogen blanket. Something must not have been working. As built, the ship was equipped with a nitrogen generator but several years before the explosion, the nitrogen generation system was disabled with DNV approval. Due to weather delays crossing the Atlantic, the ship was already two days behind schedule, when she arrived at New York. The master had very little time before arriving in the Chesapeake.

The master behaved badly after the explosion. He failed to activate any kind of distress signal, failed to lead any sort of organized abandonment, and jumped overboard with a large portion of his crew still aboard and alive. He did not survive. Nor did any of the three Greek senior officers on board. There appears to have been no rapport between the three Greeks and the rest of the crew who were Phillippinos. This is quite common among many Greek (and other European) owners, The only officer who showed any leadership was the Phillippino 3rd mate, who sent the distress signal, attempted to organize the crew on the stern, and paddled the life raft to pick up several survivors.

The owner of course claimed total ignorance of the fact that the Master was following procedures which were inconsistent with all the ship's paperwork. But the crew's reaction to the orders makes it clear the procedure was not all that unusual.

This was a chemical tanker so using IG is not legally required. One of the report's recommendations is that inerting be required of all chemical tankers. But the Commandant over-ruled this on commercial grounds pointing out that C02 could drive some cargoes off specification, and that some cargos use inhibitors that require oxygen to work.

The fact that this ship was double bottomed and SBT appears to have had no impact on the casualty.

Smit site says ship sank in 80 m deep water, and claims that the bunkers were recovered by POLREC system.

The Tromedy puts a lot of emphasis on paperwork, and checking that the paperwork is in order. If it isn't, a ship is often detained. But does almost nothing to ensure that the paperwork corresponds to reality. When egregious mismatches like this are discovered, there must be a penalty, otherwise owners will just keep generating meaningless paper work. The US should have banned all Bow ships from American waters for a significant amount of time.