Faulty Bilge Alarm Resulted in Sinking of Vessel

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On the evening of May 12, 2016, the ‘Maximus’, a 42-gross-ton small passenger vessel, began taking on water while under way near Turtle Bay, Mexico. The four crewmembers could not stop the flooding and abandoned ship into a liferaft, from which a good Samaritan vessel rescued them.

Maximus in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, before the accident. (Photo by Maximus Sportfishing)

The National Transportation Safety Board issued an investigation report on the incident, providing a description of what happened and probable causes.

The incident:

On May 12, 2016 the captain of ‘Maximus’ discovered flooding in the galley and alerted the crew. The crew members immediately began inspecting the ship in order to detect the source of the flooding as they were concerned about the stability of the ship. The captain of the vessel instructed the crew to bail water out of the ship and in the meantime the mate dived into the water to check the vessel.

Whilst he was in the water he discovered that a “softball-size” section of the hull was missing at the wooden spray rail at the waterline. The captain determined that the flooding could not be slowed based on the hole in the hull and the limited capacity of the bilge pump, and that he and the crew should abandon ship. After that, the crew went on the top deck and manually launched the liferaft, as the captain of the ship activated the emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB).

Towing vessel Shannon Dann with space shuttle Endeavour’s external fuel tank (ET-94) under tow. (Image by Emmert International)

Half an hour later a helicopter 6501 arrived on scene and spotted the ‘Maximus’ crewmembers in the liferaft. About 10 minutes after that, the vessel ‘Shannon Dann’ arrived on scene and helped the ‘Maximus’ crew from the liferaft onto the towing vessel. Testing for alcohol and other drugs was conducted. All results were negative and no injuries were reported.

Probable Cause:

  • NTSB determines that the probable cause of the flooding and sinking of small passenger vessel ‘Maximus’ was a hull breach near the waterline from an unknown cause.
  • Contributing to the accident was the ineffectiveness of the installed high-level bilge alarm system to alert the crew to water accumulating in the hull.

At left, Maximus and its liferaft. At right, the Maximus crewmembers about to be brought aboard Shannon Dann. (Photo by Shannon Dann crew)

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Source: NTSB

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