On Friday, Feb. 24, the 135-foot long offshore supply vessel Miss Pearl reported grounding on the west side of the Sabine Jetties.
The U.S. Coast Guard’s Sector Houston-Galveston office received a call at 6:17 a.m. that the vessel had run aground and that the four-person crew had suffered various injuries.
A 45-foot response boat and crew from nearby USCG Station Sabine was immediately dispatched along with a MH-65C Dolphin rescue helicopter from USCG Air Station Houston. The crew of the rescue helicopter hoisted the four crewmembers to safety and transported them to awaiting EMS personnel at the Jack Brooks Regional Airport. The crew of the Miss Pearl suffered only minor injuries not requiring hospitalization.
The Miss Pearl is owned by SEACOR Marine, which operates a fleet of offshore marine support vessels serving the global offshore oil and gas exploration and production industry with an extensive fleet deployed offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, Latin America, the North Sea, West Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
Built for SEACOR in 1993 by Breaux Brothers Enterprises of Loreauville, La., the Miss Pearl has a top speed of 25 knots. It can carry 62 passengers in what it describes as “business class” in addition to four crew cabins with a total of 10 berths. The ship can transport 17,154 gallons of drilling/potable water with a cargo deck that can accommodate 183 metric tons of cargo.
More important for authorities to know was that though the fuel capacity of the Miss Pearl was up to 12,206 gallons, the vessel was only transporting 6,000 gallons that morning.
The U.S. Coast Guard and personnel from the Texas General Land Office (GLO) along with representatives of vessel owner SEACOR arrived on the scene and established a unified command to oversee the incident response efforts. The Sabine Jetty Channel was temporarily closed and a 1,000-yard safety zone was established around the grounding site. A Broadcast Notice to Mariners was placed in effect to alert transiting mariners.
“The Coast Guard is working with the vessel owner and will supervise and direct cleanup efforts,” said Capt. Joe Paitl, commanding officer of MSU Port Arthur. “Our No. 1 one priority is the safety of everyone involved in the recovery and cleanup operations. Our goal is to salvage the vessel while mitigating environmental and economic impacts.”
The grounding took place in the pre-dawn darkness around 6:11 a.m., about six minutes before the first distress call was received by the Coast Guard. Although no preliminary report on the cause of the grounding is available, conditions at the time were far from ideal. In addition to being dark, there was as a small craft warning in effect with high seas and high winds along with the collision hazard at the jetty wall. The wind was blowing to the north at 29.9 knots with wind gusts up to 34.0 knots.
Of the 6,000 gallons of fuel on board, the first GLO incident report said an estimated 4,000 gallons of fuel was released from a damaged tank on Friday; sheen from the initial spill has dissipated. In order to address any possible environmental impact, containment and clean up equipment is on stand-by at the site of the grounded vessel.By Monday, Feb. 27, a damage survey of Miss Pearl was completed allowing vessel salvage and recovery plans to be developed. USCG Lt. JG Jason Radcliffe said lightering vessels had arrived on the scene to remove the remaining fuel from the stricken ship. Lightering is the same process routinely used to offload crude oil from super tankers that are too large to navigate the Intercoastal waterway.
The grounding of the Miss Pearl is the latest reminder – as if any were necessary – that life in the Gulf of Mexico can be dangerous business and it doesn’t take a perfect storm for a seemingly routine trip to suddenly turn serious. Factor in the heavy maritime traffic generated by the oil and gas industry off the Texas and Louisiana Gulf coasts and it is a testament to the machines and their human operators that disasters are relatively few and normally far between – but not always.
On Dec. 13, 2011 – less than three months before the Miss Pearl incident – another supply boat roughly similar in size and function ran into trouble off Sabine Pass. International Marine’s 120-foot vessel the Intl’ Hunter was about 25 miles offshore when it struck a submerged object at 4:30 p.m. The ship quickly began to take on a large amount of water. Within about five minutes of the collision with the unknown object, the captain gave the order to abandon ship. The seven men aboard abandoned the vessel in lifeboats, were rescued within the hour and received medical attention upon arrival ashore in Cameron, La. They were released without serious injuries.The submerged Int’l Hunter was located by its sister ship Int’l Navigator, an International Marine vessel that has been monitoring the area, at a location is 24 miles SE of the Sabine Pass Jetties. Despite delays caused by poor weather conditions, International Marine and the Coast Guard worked cooperatively to locate, secure and recover the vessel, while also minimizing navigational disruptions and threats to the environment.
Business Journal editor James Shannon offers a weekly column of business news for readers of The Examiner. For more details, see the editions of the Business journal published monthly in Beaumont, Port Arthur and Greater Orange. Check out the blog at setxbiz.blogspot.com or e-mail james [at] beaumontbusinessjournal [dot] com.