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Posted: Tuesday, May 6, 2014 8:44 PM
Joined: 02/05/2008
Posts: 392

Dockwalk magazine’s Worst Case Scenario column highlights a hypothetical situation that captains may experience and offers advice from experts on how to handle it. The May 2014 column recounts the story of why you should never leave a vessel uncrewed, especially when fueling!

 It was after sunset when M/Y Full Up finally tied up at their marina base. The owners and two guests had enjoyed a great trip and left the boat happy. The crew went through their usual routine of cleanup, reorganizing and resetting the boat, during which the engineer started a fuel transfer, trying to get it done and prepped to take on more fuel in the morning.

Once everything was squared away, the crew were excited to have a night off. They quickly left the vessel, leaving the unlucky deckhand on watch. It was quiet on board, and Tom was bored. After dinner, he dozed off.
When crewmembers Deckhand Jason and Bosun Ari walked down the dock to return to their yacht docked near M/Y Full Up, they could smell fuel. The two quickly jumped aboard their vessel to investigate, each taking one side of the deck and walking the length to locate any obvious problems, including a trip into the engine room. Nothing appeared out of place, yet they noticed that the smell wasn’t nearly as strong down below. Coming back out, they realized something was definitely wrong due to the strong odor. Going on a search down the dock, they noticed the bilge outlet on a nearby yacht continuously pumping.
The reason for the smell became apparent as Jason noticed the discharging bilge water from a nearby vessel and the sheen reflecting from the marina’s lights. At the same time, Ari saw fuel quietly sheeting down the side of the same yacht from the fuel vents. Attempting to get the attention of anyone on board, there was no response except for a crewmember on the adjacent yacht, who joined them on the dock. He called the dockmaster to report the smell while Jason and Ari hopped on the swim platform right as Tom staggered out, cigarette in mouth, reaching up to light a match. The sudden shouts from the crewmembers so startled Tom that the cigarette dropped from his mouth and the matches scattered across the deck. He was confused why they were on the boat.
Hurriedly explaining their reason, noting the disaster that could have unfolded if the match was carelessly flicked overboard, Jason asked for the captain. Learning that Tom was the only crewmember on board, they headed to the engine room to locate the leak as Tom suddenly woke up to what was happening...and what he forgot to watch.
Finding that fuel was spilling from an overflow reservoir, Ari immediately flipped the circuit breakers to stop the bilge pumps, while Tom shut off the valve. With a quick look around, it was obvious the fuel transfer had been left forgotten and a lot of fuel was now sloshing in the bilge. The crew spread out some absorbent pads in an attempt to soak up the fuel, but knew it wasn’t going to be enough.
The dockmaster arrived to a small crowd who had grabbed absorbent pads and small booms from their yachts to attempt control of the spill into the surrounding water, but because it was dark, the scope of the dis-
charge couldn’t immediately be determined. With the help of others, the dockmaster grabbed the emergency absorbent boom from the office and deployed it around the front of the yacht to prevent it from escaping farther out of the marina and into the bay. It wasn’t until then that he finally called an outside spill responder to aid in the containment.
“The first thing is to call your first spill responders if [the spill] is severe,” says Charles Walker, dockmaster of Bahia Mar Yachting Center, Pier Sixty-Six Marina and Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina. Because the flow from the bilge was continuous, first responders should have been called immediately. “Step one is to contain,” he continues. “Throw [out] a lot of the booming to start absorbing. [When] the first responders come out, they then assess the situation and bring out the necessary equipment, which could be vacuum trucks or whatever’s required. In that timeframe, the Coast Guard is contacted to assess the damages with the first responders.”
When Full Up’s captain and engineer arrived, they learned what had happened and started their cleanup process; the engineer knowing full well what had happened.
“Never leave the boat uncrewed at any time!” says Dan Watts, chief engineer of a 50 plus-meter yacht. It’s recommended that two crewmembers be on hand during a fuel transfer. “Do not use automatic bilge pump- ing systems, and always inspect what you’re pumping overboard,” says Watts. “It is illegal to pump bilge water from machinery spaces overboard within twelve miles from the nearest point of land, and even then it should be below fifteen parts per million.”
Almost 100 gallons of fuel ended up in the water with some escaping into the bay. Investigators learned that the spill occurred because of a left-open valve, and also that the engineer failed to conduct a pre-transfer check to ensure the proper settings. The cleanup by the first responders cost the boat owner more than $10,000 (and, in turn, the deckhand lost his job).
“The Coast Guard can fine for the spill under [U.S.] federal law,” adds Chris Anderson of Robert Allen Law. “And there are [state and local] laws that also can impose fines. Under U.S. laws there are possible criminal penalties depending on the severity of the spill and negligence involved.”
When in the same industry, “you should understand [that] if this were happening to you, what would you do?” says Walker. Without nearby crew stepping in, the spill most likely would have gone un-detected, and that crewmember might have had his last cigarette.

Caroline von Broembsen
Posted: Wednesday, May 7, 2014 11:48 AM
Joined: 18/11/2012
Posts: 7

Thanks for sharing, vigilance is really important.  Was it an outboard engine? As far as im aware, all yachts use diesel inboard and its not flammable and only combusts under compression........however spillage thereof is hugely detrimental to marine life.
Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 8:11 PM
Joined: 12/08/2010
Posts: 1

I have a query regarding some of the above, I'd be interested to know if anyone could clarify for me?

Does MARPOL Annex I not apply to yachts? Or is the "as far as practicable and reasonable" term stretched to its limits? I believe the "12 miles from land" thing must be a legacy from somewhere cos it gets quoted everywhere - is it a US thing additional to the requirements of MARPOL?

I think the quote below regarding discharge of oil from machinery spaces could be amended a little:

“It is illegal to pump bilge water from machinery spaces overboard within twelve miles from the nearest point of land, and even then it should be below fifteen parts per million.”


To my mind, "should" needs replacing with "must". As I understand it, as long as you're not in Antarctica, you need to be en route and pumping oily-bilges through a separator/filter with a PPM-monitor attached, but there's no requirement to be >12 miles from nearest land.

Do I have this wrong?

Posted: Sunday, May 18, 2014 4:26 PM

If crew are asking about MARPOL yachting had a serious problem. That being said sailboats are usually the first or I spill diesel when bunkering. On more than one occasion I've watch sailboat crew wet their decks before bunkering, they do this because they don't want diesel to get into the teak decks when bunkering. 

Why are sailboater crew so clueless????

 Average 2 out of 5