Five Crewmembers Missing After Tug and Containership Collide

5 missing after tug and containership collide
One of Tanto Line's containerships collided with a tugboat and barge (file photo)

Published Jan 26, 2021 5:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

Searches are continuing for a fourth day in the Java Sea looking for five missing crew members from a tugboat that was involved in a collision near Surabaya. A total of five crew members were rescued after the accident, but the authorities now fear the missing crew was trapped in the tugboat which capsized after the accident.

The Indonesian-flagged tugboat the Mirta Jaya XIX was operating in the Java Sea towing a barge inter-island loaded with palm oil. There were eight crew aboard the tug and two aboard the barge.

In the early morning hours on January 23, the Indonesian-flagged containership Tanto Bersinar, which had sailed from the Port of Tanjung Perak in Surabaya, collided with the tugboat and barge. Contact was lost with the tugboat and it was located that afternoon five nautical miles from the point of the accident. The tug had capsized and was floating upside down. Three crew members from the tug were recovered from the water by a passing fishing boat. 

The 17,785 dwt containership is operated on inter-island service by Tanto Line as part of a fleet of more than 50 containerships supplying service in Indonesia. The 22-year-old vessel has a capacity of 1,005 TEU.

The barge remained afloat but separated from the tug and leaking. The Indonesia Navy along with the SAR rescue squad from Basarnas and other local maritime authorities were all reported to be assisting in the rescue operation. The two crew aboard the barge were rescued and the barge was successfully towed to shore. The containership reported that it was undamaged from the incident and returned to the anchorage in the inner harbor.

A SAR rescue vessel has been searching the waters looking for the missing crew, while the tugboat was pulled closer to shore. Eight divers from the Surabaya SAR Office Operations Section were diving on the tug attempting to locate the missing crew either aboard the vessel or the waters around the boat. 

A spokesperson for the SAR office briefing the local media reported that heavy currents and cloudy seawater were hampering their efforts. They said underwater visibility was limited to about one meter. Divers who had been able to reach the tug reported that it was tilted and partially buried in the seafloor. When they reached the door to the cabin it appeared to be locked.

The SAR officials said that they had the option of either bringing in a crane to attempt to pull the tugboat to the dock or that they might attempt to reposition it in deeper water to access the cabin.