The NTSB has released a Marine Accident Brief on its investigation into the December 2015 sinking of the towing vessel Spence in the Caribbean Sea.
On December 14, 2015, about 115 nm north of Cartagena, Colombia, the US-flagged towing vessel Spence listed severely after taking on water. The list increased despite efforts by the crew to correct it. Consequently, the captain activated the vessel’s emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB), and the crew climbed onto the barge that the Spence was towing. The towing vessel sank shortly thereafter. US Coast Guard District 7 received the EPIRB alert and directed the Coast Guard cutter Decisive to the scene. On arrival, the Decisive rescued the four crewmembers from the drifting barge. Three crewmembers sustained non-life threatening injuries.
The MSC analyzed several flooding scenarios. The first indicated that flooding the potable water tank alone would not have caused the vessel to list nor the aft deck to submerge as the crew described. The second scenario indicated that complete flooding of only the rudder compartment would submerge half the aft deck, but would not cause a list. The third scenario showed that with only the aft void completely flooded the entire aft deck submerged, but the vessel again did not list. The MSC surmised that because none of these scenarios matched the crew’s description of the sinking, gradual water ingress into the aft void was more likely than sudden flooding.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the sinking of the towing vessel Spence was gradual flooding from an unknown point of ingress into the aft void space followed by downflooding to the engine room.
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