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Coast Guard assists distressed cargo ship in rough weather

Ship trying to leave Port of San Juan, Puerto Rico, during tropical disturbance

U.S. Coast Guard air and surface rescue crews at Sector San Juan responded and assisted the distressed M/V Island Express Wednesday afternoon, July 29. The ship started taking on water shortly after departing the Port of San Juan, trying to avoid deteriorating weather conditions ahead of an approaching tropical disturbance. That disturbance became Tropical Storm Isaias early this morning.

The M/V Island Express, a Cyprus-flagged 412-foot ro/ro cargo ship, is now moored in San Juan Harbor and its 18-man crew are safe. Ro/ro is an acronym for Roll-on/roll-off. Roll-on/roll-off ships are vessels that are used to carry wheeled cargo.

Coast Guard watchstanders in Sector San Juan received a Mayday VHF radio transmission from the captain of the M/V Island Express, who reported that there was a possible broken pipe in the engine room and that approximately 75% of the bilges were full of water.

Watchstanders directed the launch of two 33-foot small boats and a 45-foot Response Boat Medium from Station San Juan that got underway and arrived on scene with the M/V Island Express.

A Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter also arrived on scene, and the aircrew was able to maintain communications with the Coast Guard boat crews as they escorted the cargo ship back to the safety of the port in 8- to 10-foot seas.

“Despite the impending tropical storm and all Station San Juan small boats securely out of the water because of the storm, our boat crews responded immediately to launch two 33-foot small boats from their trailers and the 45-foot Response Boat Medium utilizing the mobile boat hoist,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Lance Wiser, Station San Juan officer in charge.

“The teamwork and training of Station operators allowed these evolutions to safely take place simultaneously, which led to all three assets arriving on scene with the distressed vessel within 45 minutes,” added Wiser. ”The sea conditions on scene were pushing the parameters of the small boats but the crews endured and the distressed vessel was escorted safely into the harbor.”

Meanwhile, Sector San Juan Prevention personnel coordinated with the San Juan Bay Pilots and two Puerto Rico Towing tugboats that rendezvoused with the M/V Island Express at the entrance of San Juan Harbor. The tugboats escorted the ship to Pier 15, where the vessel safely moored and the crew was able to finalize dewatering of the bilge spaces.

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Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.