Mayday in January: Ship cracks in half and sinks

Mayday in January: Ship cracks in half and sinks

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Photo by Al Semm/Port Jefferson Village digital archive

It was 44 years ago this week that a tank barge split in half in Port Jefferson Harbor, prompting a U.S. Coast Guard investigation.

The barge I.O.S. 3301 — which was connected to the towing vessel Martha R. Ingram and functioning as one with that vessel — had just finished off-loading more than 100,000 barrels of gasoline and almost 50,000 barrels of furnace oil in the incident on Monday, Jan. 10, 1972, according to a Coast Guard report. It went to turn around in the “shallow harbor” that morning but “as the last mooring line was being released, the vessel suddenly broke almost completely in half, and the two ends sank to the bottom. The barge was less than 1 year old.”

Photo by Al Semm/Port Jefferson Village digital archive
Photo by Al Semm/Port Jefferson Village digital archive

That crack in the middle of the ship went all the way across the main deck, down both the barge’s starboard and port sides and across almost half of its bottom. The forward and aft sections of the ship formed a 21-degree angle with the sea, the Coast Guard reported.

The vessel had arrived at the Consolidated Fuel Oil Company terminal in Port Jefferson Harbor the day before the sinking, after taking off from the Houston area on New Year’s Day and making a stop in Bridgeport, Conn. The Coast Guard reported that no one was injured in the sinking, but the barge was significantly damaged and the Martha R. Ingram, the adjacent pier and a tug on the scene sustained some damage.

In addition, “Residue of the ruptured tanks on the barge and piping on the pier caused some minor petroleum pollution to the harbor.”

Photo by Al Semm/Port Jefferson Village digital archive
Photo by Al Semm/Port Jefferson Village digital archive

The Coast Guard cited deficiencies in the barge’s steel as factors in the damage to the ship, but also said its primary cause was “uneven distribution of cargo and ballast at the extremities of the vessel.”

The crew members were able to get off the ship safely despite crew at the bow being cut off from lifesaving equipment, which was located at the stern.

Although the sea was calm that day, water temperatures were close to freezing — according to the Coast Guard, the air temperature was 46 degrees Fahrenheit but it was 40 degrees in the water.

The 584-foot barge “split in a manner which has occurred many times at ambient temperatures in structures fabricated from mild- and low-alloy steels.”