Bourbon Rhode had a leaking hatch before it sank
Survivors and former crew of the lost tugboat Bourbon Rhode told investigators that the vessel was not in good condition before its last voyage, according to its Luxembourg flag state.
“The first officer originally hired left the shipyard due to the poor condition of the ship. His replacement also complained about the general condition of the ship, “the Luxembourg transport ministry said in an interim report on the accident.” The three survivors said they were surprised by the poor condition. A survivor said a senior engine crew official feared the ship’s technical condition would allow it to cross the Atlantic. “
In July 2019, Bourbon Rhode entered a six-week shipyard period at the Port of Las Palmas, as part of her preparations to move from 12 years of service off Nigeria to a new contract off Guyana. She left the shipyard on September 17, bound for Guyanese waters. In addition to her crew, she was carrying a supernumerary, a fitter who had joined the ship to do “steel work that had not been completed at the shipyard.”
On September 25, as it crossed the mid-Atlantic, it encountered increasing winds from Hurricane Lorenzo – a Category 3 hurricane with winds of up to 110 knots. She did not change course and was on track to cross the northern quadrants of the hurricane, within 35 nm of the epicenter.
At 7:50 a.m. the next morning, Bourbon Rhode sent a distress signal via GMDSS. His crew activated their EPIRB 15 minutes later. At 8:45 a.m., the ship’s captain informed Headquarters that the ship had flooded the engine room and was likely in the process of collapsing. “We have no more engines, they are all broken. All the crew are assembled, ready and waiting … Life rafts impossible to take off, very rough seas, swells [30 feet] or more ”, wrote the master at 9.45 am. The vessel’s last AIS position report was received at 12.43 pm.
Bourbon Rhode being located nearly 1000 nm from the nearest land, the maritime rescue coordination center in Martinique called on merchant ships nearby to help its crew. Bulk carriers Excellent SSI and Piet diverted to the scene, and in the afternoon of September 28 – two days after the sinking – the Piet’s the crew recovered three survivors from a life raft. The bodies of four others Bourbon Rhode crew members were also recovered; seven have never been found.
Inspections and crew counts indicate leaks
A technical inspection of the Bourbon Rhode of March 8, 2019 recommended new under-deck inspection covers for the watertight compartments of the tug’s shark hydraulic jaws, tow pins and lifting cable, retractable anchor handling tools that were installed in the housings flush deck aft of the ship. The inspector requested that new covers be “made and installed with rubber gaskets to prevent water from entering the compartments during rain or rough seas when not in use.” The bolt holes for attaching the cover also needed to be re-threaded, according to the report. Photos of the existing covers were included in the inspection report along with the caption “Shark Jaw comp. Leaking cover”.
Courtesy of Bourbon / Luxembourg Ministry of Transport
According to the flag state, the ship’s manager appears to have concluded that the inspection report referred to an optional set of removable covers for the deck surface – not the inspection covers below decks. For the class, the inspection covers were not considered part of the watertight structure and they were not directly inspected prior to the vessel’s departure.
According to the flag state report, some of the “work that was supposed to be done at the shipyard was not carried out due to missing materials or tools,” and a survivor told investigation by Flag State that “the Chief Engineer had reported to the master before departure that the vessel was not quite ready for the intended voyage due to ongoing repairs and maintenance. ”
The engine room skylight hatch had not been repaired during the dry docking, and water was reported to have leaked through the hatch into the engine room. The problem was largely resolved along the way, except for small drops. Bilge alarm system failures were also common, according to survivors, and former crew members said this had been the case for some time during the vessel’s previous service.
According to survivors, on the last morning of Bourbon Rhode, flooding began in the Z-Drive compartment with water entering through the shark jaw housing frame inspection covers. Flooding was detected at 0600 and reached the lower coaming of the bulkhead hatch at 06:15, threatening to bypass the electrical propulsion and steering controls. The installer was able to stop the leak from one of the z-drive compartment inspection covers, but not the other. Meanwhile, water began to seep into the engine room through the skylight hatch. The vessel lost direction and propulsion at 0734, and was left adrift and registered as the hurricane approached.