Salvage Tug to Take Burned Car Carrier in Tow

Published Jan 9, 2019 11:03 AM by The Maritime Executive

A salvage tug is conducting a search and recovery mission for five missing crewmembers of the ro/ro Sincerity Ace, which caught fire and burned in the North Pacific on New Years' Eve.

Shortly after the fire broke out, 16 crewmembers were rescued from the Ace by good samaritan vessels. Four additional individuals were spotted in the water but were unresponsive and unable to aid in their own rescue. The fifth has not been found, and the U.S. Coast Guard has already called off its participation in the search. 

The tug will conduct its own search for the missing before taking the Sincerity Ace in tow and bringing her to a port of refuge. Merchant vessels transiting the area have been asked to look for bodies in the water. 

A spokesman for operator Shoei Kisen Kaisha told the AP that it is uncertain whether the Ace is still on fire. 

On New Year's Eve, the Ace was under way in the North Pacific, on her way to Hawaii. At 0100 hours, the U.S. Coast Guard JRCC in Honolulu received a notification from Japanese SAR authorities about an incident aboard the Ace. The vessel's master reported a significant vessel fire, ongoing firefighting efforts, and an intent to abandon ship. 

Watchstanders in Honolulu issued a SafetyNet broadcast requesting the assistance of vessels in the area, and they directed the launch of a Hercules aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point. The Green Lake, a 650-foot U.S.-flagged car carrier traveling from Japan to the U.S. mainland, was the first on scene to assist the Sincerity Ace. Three additional merchant vessels diverted to respond to the casualty. 

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. 

Challenging rescue operation

The American-crewed Green Lake rescued seven crewmembers from the Ace in a challenging 18-hour operation, which her master described in detail for the Masters, Mates & Pilots' weekly news outlet.

“The entire crew did a truly incredible job under extreme conditions,” said Green Lake's master, Captain William Boyce. “Winds were blowing a steady 25 knots, gusting to 30 knots, with a heavy 20-25 ft northwesterly swell. Due to the sea state and our high freeboard, it was very difficult to maneuver, bring the ship alongside each survivor, and get them on board with limited retrieval resources.”

The Green Lake's all-union crew - MM&P deck officers, MEBA engineers, SIU deck crew and two cadets - worked from 0200 hours to 2000 hours to bring seven survivors on board. In addition, the other merchant vessels on scene rescued another nine survivors. 

“The crew showed incredible perseverance, teamwork and determination, constantly improvising with each survivor’s recovery in very difficult and dangerous conditions," said Capt. Boyce. “I am proud of each and every one of this crew for saving seven souls that had experienced horrific conditions and were exhausted.”

The Ace's survivors told Boyce that they had been trapped on the ro/ro's boat deck forward due to the heavy smoke, with decks so hot they melted the crew's survival suit bags. They reported that they had to abandon ship one by one via man ropes, descending 100 feet down to the waterline in rough seas.