NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs


NTSB INVESTIGATION OF FREIGHTER GROUNDING OFF ALASKA

December 15, 2004

A National Transportation Safety Board team is in Alaska investigating the December 8 grounding of a freighter off the coast of Unalaska Island.

The Malaysian-flagged vessel, the Selendang Ayu, was en route from Seattle to Xiamen, China, with a cargo of soy beans, when it lost propulsion in the Bering Sea, drifted for two days and then ran aground and subsequently broke apart. The vessel, which had a crew of 26, had taken on about 1,000 tons of heavy fuel in Seattle, some of which was released in the breakup. Its current position is approximately 1800 feet from the north shore of Unalaska Island.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crashed while conducting rescue operations, with the reported loss of 6 crewmembers from the freighter (the Chief Engineer, 2nd Engineer, Electrical Engineering Officer, Chief Mate, 3rd Officer, and the Bosun).

In interviews with NTSB investigators, the Captain of the vessel said the voyage from Seattle to the Unimak Pass and into the Bering Sea was uneventful except for rough weather encountered upon leaving the Straits of Juan de Fuca. Vessel logbooks indicate that the weather was averaging Force 8 on the Beaufort Wind Scale (gale force, windspeed 34 to 40 knots), rising some days to Force 10 or 11 (storm/violent storm, windspeed 48 to 63 knots).

The Captain said that about noon on December 6, after consulting with the Chief Engineer, the main engine was stopped to permit an examination of a problem with one of the cylinders. The vessel at the time was approximately 120 nautical miles (nm) from Dutch Harbor, Alaska. A decision was made to isolate the problem cylinder and proceed to a sheltered anchorage at Dutch Harbor for engine repairs. However, attempts to restart the main engine were unsuccessful.

The Captain stated that, in the evening of December 7, a towline was established with a tug, the Sydney Foss, that arrived on scene but the tug was not able to turn the bow of the Selendang Ayu into the wind. On the morning of December 8, the towline broke and attempts at reestablishing it were not successful.

The Captain said that during this time both anchors were deployed, holding the vessel about 0.9 nm offshore.

NTSB investigators are continuing with interviews of crewmembers of the Selendang Ayu and U.S. Coast Guard personnel involved in the rescue efforts. They also are collecting and examining various documents such as deck logs, charts, and voyage plans. Some documents such as engine logs and maintenance records reportedly were in the possession of the Chief Engineer and 2nd Engineer when the Coast Guard helicopter crashed.

The Investigator-in-Charge is NTSB marine investigator Rob Jones. Parties to the investigation thus far are: the vessel's owner, Ayu Navigation of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; the U.S. Coast Guard; and the flag state, Malaysia.

NTSB Office of Public Affairs: (202) 314-6100

 

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.