Sixteen crew members are rescued, four are unresponsive and another is missing.
(Updated at 5 p.m. Eastern Sunday) Shoei Kisen Kaisha says the U.S. Coast Guard has suspended its active search and rescue operations for five missing crew members from the car carrier Sincerity Ace, which caught fire on Dec. 31. A tug is expected to arrive on scene on Monday and attempt to take the ship under tow. Sixteen of the crew were rescued, and the company has expressed gratitude to those who assisted the crew, including five Good Samaritan vessels.
Several ships are continuing to search for a survivor from the car carrier Sincerity Ace which is ablaze in the Pacific Ocean, 1,800 nautical miles northwest of Oahu.
The ship is chartered by Mitsui O.S.K. from Shoei Kisen Kaisha, Ltd.
The Coast Guard said Tuesday that Joint Rescue Coordination Center Honolulu received the initial notification of the fire from JRCC Japan at 1:04 a.m., Monday when the master of the Sincerity Ace reported a significant vessel fire, ongoing firefighting efforts and an intent to abandon ship.
The crew did abandon ship and the Coast Guard said Tuesday that “Good Samaritans aboard four merchant vessels rescued 16 of the 21 crew Monday.”
It said “Three of the five missing mariners reportedly were located but remain in the water as they are unresponsive and unable to grab onto life-saving equipment to be brought aboard.”
A Coast Guard spokesman said Wednesday that a fourth missing mariner had since been found and also was unresponsive.
The ship was en route from Yokohama to Honolulu, according to the schedule on MOL’s website. It was then scheduled to call Mazatlan, San Juan, Port Canaveral, Jacksonville, Newport News, Baltimore, Newark, Baltimore, Charleston and Brunswick before returning to the Far East via Namibia and South Africa.
The Sincerity Ace, built in 2009, had a capacity for 5,221 passenger cars.
The Coast Guard said aircraft and ships involved in the search to date consisted of two Air Station Barbers Point HC-130 Hercules aircrews, a Navy 7th Fleet P-8 Poseidon aircrew, the crew of the SM Eagle and the crews of the motor vessels Green Lake, New Century 1, Venus Spirit and Genco Augustus.
The commercial vessels involved are part of the AMVER, or Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue System, a worldwide voluntary reporting system sponsored by the United States Coast Guard. It is a computer-based global ship reporting system used worldwide by search-and-rescue authorities to arrange for assistance to persons in distress at sea.
The Coast Guard said the owners of the Sincerity Ace are coordinating with the merchant vessels for the transport of the rescued mariners. A salvage plan is being formalized and commercial tugs have been dispatched by the company.
The fire is the latest in a series of high profile accidents involving pure car truck carriers in recent years. In 2006, while enroute from Japan to Vancouver, BC, another MOL ship, Cougar Ace, lost stability during a ballast water exchange and developed 60 degree list. The crew had to abandon ship, but the vessel was recovered—though one member of the salvage crew lost his life during the operation. It was towed to Dutch Harbor in Unalaska where it was righted, but the website Drivemag says all 4,800 vehicles, worth $117 million including 4,700 Mazda automobiles and 100 Isuzu trucks were scrapped.
Drivemag recounted other accidents involving car carriers in recent years including: the 2002 collision of Wallenius Wilhelmsen’s MV Tricolor with the containership Kariba in the English Channel; the 2012 collision of the car carrier Baltic Ace with the containership Corvus J in the North Sea; the grounding of the Hoegh Osaka in 2015 on Bramble Bank off the Isle of Wight; and Modern Express which developed a severe list while in the Bay of Biscay in 2015 but was righted in Bilbao.