Marine Log

USCG Photograph

July 27, 2006

Ballasting suspected in car carrier tilt

Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd. reports that the MOL-operated car carrier Cougar Ace, disabled at sea south of the Aleutian Islands on Monday, July 24 is floating stably though the vessel remains listed.

The company's investigation into the incident has just started.

The company had its first contact with the captain on the evening of July 26, following his rescue on July 25. He confirmed that the vessel started listing during procedures to adjust the ballast water .

MOL considers that the possible cause of the listing is instability developed during the ballast water adjustment process, rather than external forces such as a collision with unknown object or grounding.

The U.S. Coast Guard yesterday released a summary of events in relation to the incident.

A crewmember of the Cougar Ace, a 654-foot car carrier homeported in Singapore, contacted the Coast Guard North Pacific Search and Rescue Coordination Center and reported that their vessel was listing at 80 degrees and taking on water at 11:09 p.m. Sunday.

Their position was 230 miles south of the Aleutian Islands with 23 people on board. One of the crewmen had a broken leg, but there were no other reported injuries.

The Cougar Ace sailed out of Japan on July 22, carrying 4,813 vehicles en route to The Port of Tacoma, Wash., and The Fraser River Port near Vancouver, B.C. Some of the vehicles onboard are Mazda and their conditions are impossible to determine at this time.

The Coast Guard cutter Rush, a 378-foot cutter based in Hawaii, was diverted from a previous mission in Alaska at 11:36 p.m. Monday, after it was determined that they were the closest Coast Guard vessel. Given the distance off shore of the Cougar Ace it was estimated that the Rush would not be on scene for at least 20 hours.

A Coast Guard C-130 aircraft from Kodiak arrived on scene at 5:40 a.m. Monday carrying life rafts, immersion suits and survival kits. The C-130 crew dropped several inflatable life rafts, and was able to assist in getting one of them tied off to the side of the heavily listing vessel. The crew was standing on a narrow platform about 150 feet in the air, and it was determined that trying to get down to the life raft would be too dangerous.

The Coast Guard command center began working with the Alaska Air National Guard in Anchorage and soon came up with a rescue plan.

Two Air National Guard HC-130 planes and one C-130 plane were launched from Kulis Air National Guard Base at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage. Two Air National Guard Pavehawk helicopters, with the ability to be refueled in flight by the HC-130s, were also launched from Kulis. All Air National Guard aircraft were carrying parachute deployable medical personnel from the Air National Guard 212th Pararescue Squadron.

Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak launched an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter that would need to stop at a refueling station in Adak.

The Alaska Air National Guard and Coast Guard aircraft crews converged on the location of the Cougar Ace, beginning the rescue operation at 9:05 p.m. Monday. At 9:30 p.m. crewmembers of the first Pavehawk helicopter crew hoisted seven crewmembers of the Cougar Ace. At 9:43 p.m. the Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter crew hoisted eight of the crewmembers and returned to Adak. The second Pavehawk helicopter crew hoisted the remaining crewmembers, returning them to Adak.

The injured Cougar Ace crewmember and a translator were transported to Anchorage for medical treatment, and the remaining 21 crewmembers were transported by an Air National Guard C-130 crew to Anchorage Tuesday evening. Further travel arrangements are being made by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines.

The Coast Guard cutter Rush arrived on scene at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday. The crew of the Rush deployed a small boat and began monitoring the situation and observing for signs of pollution. There have been no signs of the vessel's fuel tanks losing containment at this time. Observers have reported a light and broken sheen extending two miles around the vessel.

The Cougar Ace is carrying 430 metric tons of fuel oil and 112 metric tons of diesel fuel. The Coast Guard will continue actively participating and monitoring the scene for pollution concerns throughout the salvage process.

Mitsui O.S.K. Lines officials have contracted the salvage company Crowley Marine. Titan Maritime LLC, a unit of Crowley, will assist in towing the vessel to an appropriate port. Titan's tug, the Sea Victory, departed Seattle on Tuesday at 9:40 p.m. and is projected to arrive at the Cougar Ace's location on August 2.

The Coast Guard will not be conducting an investigation at this time due to the incident occurring in international waters outside of U.S. jurisdictional boundaries. Having succeeded in the primary mission of preventing loss of life and injury, the next immediate concern will be the successful salvage of the Cougar Ace.