Monday, July 30, 2007

China Thanks Horizon for Ocean Rescue

By ESTES THOMPSON 07.23.07, 5:21 PM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. Crew members of a ship operated by a North Carolina company were hailed by Chinese maritime officials for their "courageous, selfless and humanitarian" acts for braving typhoon-whipped seas to rescue two Chinese seamen from a sunken ship

One adrift man was plucked from the Pacific Ocean by a sailor harnessed to a 40-foot ladder as it was lowered into huge swells during Typhoon Man-yi. Thesecond man was rescued by a lifeboat that was heavily damaged, according to a log entry by the Horizon Falcon's captain.

The rescued men were among 13 surviving crew members of the 420-foot log carrier Hai Tong No. 7, which sank about 375 miles northwest of Guam earlier this month. The Panamanian-registered ship had a 22-member crew, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

In a letter sent to Charlotte-based Horizon Lines (nyse: HRZ - news - people ) Inc., a Chinese government official thanked the Horizon Falcon crew and called the dramatic rescues "a demonstration of international humanitarian cooperation, mariner helps mariner."

The letter, dated July 17 and released by the company, was signed by Capt. Liu Gongchen, executive director general of the China Maritime Search and Rescue Center. An Associated Press correspondent in Beijing confirmed the letter's authenticity.

Crew members weren't available Monday because the ship was at sea, a company spokesman said.

Company officials said Capt. Tom McDorr steered the Horizon Falcon through logs and other debris to bring the 722-foot ship close enough to lower a lifeboat. One man was rescued by the lifeboat, driven by Kevin McCarthy, before it was abandoned after being damaged by an 18 to 20-foot swell.

Crew members pulled another Chinese seaman to safety after John Dacaug, who was strapped to a ladder, grabbed the man with a hook, according to the captain's log, which was released by Horizon Lines.

The Horizon Falcon and other ships searched for additional survivors, operating after sundown from the light of flares dropped by a Navy plane.

Horizon Lines Chairman Charles G. Raymond said the rescue was an example of "the brotherhood at sea that crosses any boundary."

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

And from Horizon Lines;

Vessel in Force 8 North Pacific Ocean storm answers distress call

Charlotte, NC (July 17, 2007) – With 30-foot swells in fierce seas and with 40 mile an hour winds buffeting their efforts, the M/V HORIZON FALCON crew performed a rescue of two Chinese seafarers 375 miles northwest of Guam, Horizon Lines Inc. (NYSE:HRZ) reported today following a review of the FALCON’s Master’s Log. The rescue effort took place over a 24 hour period on July 12 and 13.

The HORIZON FALCON, a newly-constructed 2,824 TEU containership in the Horizon Lines fleet, responded to a request by the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Guam to divert for a distress call from a log carrier, HAI TONG No. 7. The 420-foot Panamanian-flagged ship had 22 Chinese crewmembers on board. It sank after encountering rough seas due to a typhoon in the area. Survivors were in the water for two days when the HORIZON FALCON arrived at the scene before noon on July 12.

Captain Tom McDorr of the HORIZON FALCON navigated rough seas strife with logs and other debris from the sunken ship to bring the 722-ft FALCON into safe recovery distance. The crew used a lifeboat and the ship’s portside pilots’ ladder to attempt a rescue of the distressed seafarers.

According to Captain McDorr’s log, a lifeboat with three seamen under the command of Chief Mate Kevin McCarthy, was dispatched with 18-20ft swells and waves impacting from every direction. One survivor was rescued, but as the lifeboat was being recovered, a large swell descended on the lifeboat, knocking the craft to a 45degree angle and damaging the motor. The crew was ordered to abandon the lifeboat and climbed to safety with the survivor up the containership’s 40 foot pilot’s ladder. A second survivor was rescued by ABS J. Dacaug, who while harnessed to the pilot’s ladder descended toward the water. While being submerged by swells, ABS Dacaug attached a grappling hook to the survivor before both were winched clear of the sea to safety.

With flares from an Okinawa-based Navy P3 Orion 225 airplane providing some light from above, the HORIZON FALCON continued searching for survivors and was eventually joined by the M/V CORAL EMERALD. The Horizon ship ran a search pattern in the area for four more hours until morning. A USCG Buoy Tender from Guam arrived at the scene to assist and relieve the HORIZON FALCON, which was running low on fuel.

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended the search operation for survivors of the HAI TONG No.7 on July 15 after 13 survivors of the 22-man crew had been rescued.

Weather Story

We are still tracking Invest 98L and now tracking Typhoon 05W (Usagi), heading for China.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sunday and INVEST 98L

ABNT20 KNHC 291504
1130 AM EDT SUN JUL 29 2007





Remember Substropical Storm Andea?

We are now tracking Invest 98 L to see if it forms and becomes a tropical depression, disipates or remains a open wave. At this point I am being told that "even though the system doesn't look particularly impressive right now, there is some potential for tropical or subtropical development during the next 2 days. The chances are not high, but it cannot be ruled out. By day 3, any possible development looks to be non-tropical in nature."

I will keep you posted...


Friday, July 27, 2007

WebExclusive- EPIRBs and the s/v Sean Seamour II - Part III

This is Part III in a series of reports on the malfunction of one of two EPIRBs (the ACR Globalfix" 406EPIRB) that was used during the rescue of the Seamour's crew.

We have reviewed what a EPIRB is and how it communicates between the vessel or person in trouble and we reviewed how the EPIRB communicates with the overhead satellites to the rescuers.

I have begun this story in this fashion because many of the visitors to this site are not mariners and its important for them to understand some of the technology and why when something like a EPIRB goes astray, its important to get to the bottom of the failure.

Today I want to not just revisit or go "back to the future" and remember just what took place prior to setting sail, but also what took place during the emergency.

To do this lets first revisit the final log of the s/v Sean Seamour II.

Cape Cod, May 12th 2007

This is the log of actions and events driven by the only subsequently named Sub-tropical Storm Andrea, leading to the sinking of s/v Sean Seamour II and the successful rescue of its entire crew on the early morning of May 7th 2007.

We departed from Green Cove Springs on the Saint Johns River in the early morning of May 2nd, 2007. Gibraltar was our prime destination with a planned stopover in the Azores for recommissioning and eventually fuel. The vessel, on its second crossing was fully prepared and some of the recent preparations done by Holland Marine and skipper with crew were as follows:

· Full rig check, navigation lights, new wind sensor, sheet and line check / replacement.

· New autopilot, stuffing box and shaft seal, house battery bank, racor fuel filtering system.

· Bottom paint, new rudder bearing and check, new auxiliary tiller, full engine maintenance.

· Recertification of life raft and check of GPIRB (good to November 2007), update and replacement of all security equipment (PFDs, flares, medical, etc).

Although paper charts were available for all planned destinations, with increased dependence on electronic navigational aids, two computers were programmed to handle both the MaxSea navigation software (version 12.5) as well as the Iridium satphone for weather data (MaxSea Chopper and OCENS). A full electronic systems checkout and burn trial was done during the days prior to departure.

For heavy weather and collision contingencies cutter rigged Sean Seamour II was equipped with two drogues (heavy and light), collision mat, auxiliary electric pump, as well as extensive power tools to enable repairs at sea with the 2.4kva inverter. Operational process and use of this equipment was discussed at length with the crew in anticipation. Other physical process contingencies such as lashing, closing seacocks, companionway doors, etc. were equally treated.

The 7 day weather GRIBs downloaded almost daily from April 25th onwards showed no inconsistencies, with the two high and two low pressure systems fairly balanced over the western Atlantic. Only the proximity of the two low pressure systems seemed to warrant surveillance as the May 5th GRIB would indicate with a flow increase from the N,NO from 20 to 35 knots focused towards coastal waters.

Already on a northerly course some 200 nautical miles out, I maintained our navigational plan with a N,NE heading until increased winds warranted a more easterly tack planned approximately 300 nautical miles north of Bermuda towards the Azores.

Wind force increased about eight hours earlier than expected and later shifted to the NE reaching well into the 60 knots range by early afternoon, then well beyond as the winds shifted. Considering that we were confronted with a sustained weather system that was quite different from the gulf stream squall lines we had weathered previous days, by mid afternoon I decided to take appropriate protective measures.

From our last known position approximately 217 nautical miles east of Cape Hatteras I reversed course, laying my largest drogue off the starboard stern while maintaining a quarter of the storm jib on the inner roller furl. This was designed to balance the boat's natural windage due in large part to its hard dodger and center cockpit structure.

By late afternoon the winds were sustained at well over 70 knots and seas were building fast. I estimate seas were well into 25 feet by dusk but after adding approximately 150 feet of drogue line the vessel handled smoothly over the next eight hours advancing with the seas at about 6 knots (SOG). By late evening the winds were sustained above 74 kts and a crew member recorded a peak of 85.5 kts.

Growing and irregular seas were the primary concern as in the very early hours of the morning the boat was increasingly struck by intermittent waves to its port side. Crew had to be positioned against the starboard side as both were tossed violently across the boat. Water began to accumulate seemingly fed through the stern engine-room air cowls. I believe in retrospect the goosenecks were insufficient with the pitch of larger waves as they were breaking onto the stern.

At approximately 02.45 hours we were violently knocked all the way down to starboard. It appears that the resulting angle and tension may have caused the drogue line to rupture (clean cut), perhaps as it rubbed against the same engine-room air-intake cowl positioned just below the cleat. The line was attached to the port side main winch then fed through the cleat where it was covered with anti-chaffing tape and lubricant. Before abandoning ship I noticed the protected part of the line was intact and extended beyond the cleat some five inches. Its position in the cleat rather than retracted from it also supports this theory.

After the knockdown I knew there was already structural damage and that we had lost control of the vessel. I pulled the GPIRB (registered to USCG documented Sean Seamour II) but I suspect that the old EPIRB from 1996 (Registered to USCG documented Lou Pantaï, but kept as the vessel was sold to an Italian national in 1998) might have been automatically launched first. I kept this unit as a redundancy latched in its housing on the port side of the hard dodger; it may have been ejected upon the first knockdown as Coast Guard Authorities questioned relatives with this vessel name versus Sean Seamour II. Herein lies a question that needs to be answered, hopefully it will be in light of the USCG report.

The GPIRB initially functioned but the strobe stopped and the intensity of the light diminished rapidly to the extent that I do not know if the Coast Guard received that signal. At the time were worried the unit was not emitting and I re initiated the unit twice. The unit sent for recertification with the life raft a few weeks prior had been returned from River Services. They had responded to Holland Marine that the unit was good until this coming November, functioned appropriately, and that the battery had an extra five year life expectancy. I will await reception of the Coast Guard report to find out if one or both signals was processed as all POCs were questioned regarding Lou Pantaï and not my current vessel Sean Seamour II (both vessels had been / in the case of Sean Seamour II is US Coast Guard documented).

As all communications excepting hand held VHF were down (SSB antennae on backstay, DSC VHF down and backup antennae inaccessible, Iridium soaked in roll, GPIRB not functioning, EPIRB seemingly lost to sea when hard dodger sheared) too much time was dedicated to hailing over the hand held VHFs and attempting to re-initialize the GPRIB). Had I cut the rig, dumped the 150 yards of chain in the bow, plugged the deck through mast passage and rerouted the rule pumps through the deck air cowl vents, we could have jump started the engine, deployed a second drogue with the sixty yards of stern anchor chain and regained control of the vessel. But that critical time window was lost

Expecting worse to come I re-lashed and locked all openings and the companionway. At 02:53hours we were struck violently again and began a roll to 180 degrees. As the vessel appeared to stabilize in this position I unlocked the companionway roof to exit an see where the life raft was. It had disappeared from its poop deck cradle which I could directly access as the helm and pedestal had been torn away. When I emerged to the surface against the boat's starboard (in righted port position) it began its second 180 degree roll. As it emerged the rig was almost longitudinal to the boat barely missing the stern arch. Spreaders were arrayed over cockpit and port side, mast cleanly bent at deck level, fore stays apparently torn away.

I ordered the crew to start all pumps. By their own volition they also cut out 2.5 gallon water bottles to enable physical bailing while I continued to locate the life raft. It finally appeared upside down under the rig. As its sea anchors and canopy lines were entangled in the rig and partially torn by one of the spreaders I decided to cut them away in an effort to save time and effort. I needed the crew below and had to manage the rig entanglement alone. This done I managed to move the unit forward and use its windward position to blow it over the bow to starboard, attaching it still upside down.

Below, water was being stabilized above the knees. The new higher positioned house battery bank was not shorted by the water level but the engine bank was flooded not enabling us to start the engine and pump from the bilge instead of the seacock. In retrospect this was not a loss as having to keep one of the companionway doors off for bailing and to route the Rule pump pipe, the water pouring in from here and the through-deck mast hole were no match for the impeller' volume. Plugging the mast passage was also not a solution as it was moving and hitting violently against the starboard head wall and was dangerous to try to cope with.

I knew the situation was desperate but it was still safer to stay aboard than to abandon ship, let alone in the dark any earlier than necessary. Estimating daylight at about 05:30 hours, we needed to hold on for at least another two hours. As the boat shifted in the waves it became increasingly vulnerable to flooding from breaking waves. One such wave at about 05:20 added about 18 inches of water, as the bow was now barely emerged these two factors triggered my decision to abandon ship. I exited first knowing that the raft was still upside down. In addition, some of the canopy lines still needed to be cut from the rig entanglement. In the precipitation the grab bag containing Iridium phone, VHF, GPS and all our personal and ship documents was lost.

As we boarded the now upturned raft it immediately flooded with the breaking waves and once unprotected from the wind by the hull structure was prone to turn over (no sea anchors nor canopy to roll over on). Hypothermia was already gaining upon one of my crew and myself and our efforts to right and re-enter the raft drained strength. Periods spent lying on the overturned raft exposed to the wind seemed to further weaken us.

Sean Seamour II sank a few minutes after we abandoned ship fully disappearing from view after the second wave crest.

We became aware of fixed wing overflight sometime between 06:00 and 07:00 hours and estimate that the Coast Guard helicopter arrived some time around 08:30 hours. As seemingly the most affected by hypothermia and almost unconscious the crew had me lifted out first. It was a perilous process during which Coast Guard AST2 Dazzo was himself injured (later to be hospitalized with us). The life raft was destroyed and abandoned by AST2 Dazzo as the third crew member was extracted. He also recouped the GPIRB which remained in USCG custody.

The emotions and admiration felt by my crew and myself to the dedication of this Coast Guard team is immeasurable, all the more so when hearing them comment on the severity and risk of the extraction, perhaps the worst they had seen in ten years (dixit SAT2 Dazzo). They claim to have measured 70 plus foot waves which from our perspective were mountains. We measured after the first knockdown and before loosing our rig winds still in excess of 72 knots.

Also to be commended are the medical teams involved, from our ambulatory transfer of custody from the rescue.


My paper chart set was second to few recreational mariners, just there my replacement budget would total 3000$, even though I had comprehensive sets of electronic charts MapMedia, C-Map plus Maptech.

As a redundancy freak (ended up saving the crew) I usually had three of everything if not more (three sets of belts, ten fuel filters, extra propeller, extra running rigging) if Sean Seamour II ran well through the storm is in part due to to low waterline weighted with extra equipment, from sailrite sewing machine to heavy tools sets. Safety wise, I consider I had everything essential plus."

The Facts

As you can see the Master of the s/v Sean Seamour II painstakingly pre-planed for his voyage but to his luck his
redundancy of equipment paid off and save both his and his crews lives.. This is important to establish that the Master of the s//v Sean Seamour II did everything he should have done to ensure the safety of not just his vessel but his crew as well.

Now let's review some of the reported facts in this case and make note of, "
Re-certification of life raft and check of GPIRB (good to November 2007)." The ACR Globalfix"406EPIRB in question was re-certified as being in compliance and in good working order by a certified outside vendor.

The ACR Globalfix" 406EPIRB in question was purchased in October of 2002 and the UK vendor registered it with NOAA and supplied it to the s/v Sean Seamour II at the time still in the Mediterranean. This EPIRB was always kept in its cradle affixed to the inside of the companionway whenever the boat was in use.

Prior to leaving for the May crossing back to Europe the s/v Sean Seamour II had a shipyard send the EPIRB with the life raft for re-certification, the accredited service center informed the Master through the yard that the unit was fully operational and certified until next November.

The EPIRB started to function normally when initiated at about 02:45hours on the 7th, between the knockdown of the s/v Sean Seamour II, its crew and the EPIRB, it was put back in its cradle for safekeeping and accessibility should the need to abandon ship occur, less than 30 minutes later it reportedly ceased functioning.

The Coast Guard received the signal initially, but the hexadecimal code it received was that of another vessel in Alabama. The USCG never received a distress signal from the s/v Sean Seamour II as there appears to have been no Sean Seamour II vessel registered in their database.

Once the USCG ascertained that the ID code received was that of a non initiated EPIRB, under the principle that every EPIRB has a unique hexadecimal code plus the interruption of the signal, further search on this distress signal was abandoned.

Had the Master of the s/v Sean Seamour II not kept an 11 year old EPIRB (another ACR 406 with its original battery that functioned over ten hours) from one of his prior vessels the crew would be yet another set of lost at sea statistics and all of the above would not be known.

How this happened is now under investigation by the USCG and the Master of the Sean Seanour II. But the ramifications of such a failure do impact the entire maritime community.

As of this writing I cannot stress enough that all mariners must ensure that their EPIRBs are not just in operational condition, that the registration matches the face plate on their EPIRBs, but also that the registration actually matches the hexadecimal code in the NOAA database.

For the s/v Sean Seamour II Lessons Learned visit the maritime communities best of the best


Previous Posts;

WebExclusive EPIRBs and the s/v Sean Seamour II - Part II
EPIRBs and the s/v Sean Seamour II
NHC Report on Subtropical Storm Andrea
Cheating Death On The High Seas
The s/v Sean Seamour II & The Hatteras Trench
High Sea's Update On Sean Seamour II
The Story of the Sailing Vessel Sean Seamour II

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Survey of Hurricane Preparedness Finds One-Third on High Risk Coast Will Refuse Evacuation Order

Many Could Face Shortages of Food and Water

Most New Orleans Residents Do Not Know Location of Evacuation Shelters

For immediate release: Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Boston, MA --According to a new survey of people in high-risk hurricane areas conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security, one-third (31%) of residents said if government officials said they had to evacuate due to a major hurricane this season, they would not leave. This is an increase from 2006 when 23% said they would not evacuate.

Hurricane Sign (iStock_000003658320Small.jpg)

The survey was conducted in eight states—Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas—and only included residents of counties within 20 miles of the coast. The poll included a special sample of the New Orleans metropolitan area (Figures 1 and 2).

The top reasons people give for not evacuating involve issues of safety and security. Three-quarters (75%) say their home is well-built and they would be safe there. Over half (56%) feel that roads would be too crowded, and slightly more than one in three (36%) feels that evacuating would be dangerous. One-third (33%) worry that their possessions would be stolen or damaged while one in four (27%) say they would not evacuate because they do not want to leave their pets (Figure 2).

“Public officials need to be concerned that the further we get from the severe hurricanes of 2005, the less willing people are to evacuate,” said Robert J. Blendon, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. “Officials need to remind people that many homes are vulnerable to major storms. They also need to ensure safe evacuation routes are available and the public is aware of them.”

These findings are based on interviews conducted June 18 - July 10, 2007 with 5,046 adults in high hurricane risk counties in eight states.

The complete survey and charts with figures are available here

Individual state data here

The results of this survey will be distributed to state and local officials for use in emergency planning.

Evacuation and Shelter Conditions
If residents of high-risk hurricane areas have to evacuate because of a major hurricane, most would be concerned about the conditions of evacuation shelters if they had to go to one. The biggest worries people have are that shelters would be unsanitary (68%), there wouldn’t be enough clean water to drink (66%), the shelter would be too crowded (65%), they would be exposed to sick people (62%), and medical care would be lacking (58%).

Hurricane Preparations
Many residents of hurricane-prone areas have not made critical preparations for a major storm. If running water were cut off due to a hurricane, one in four (23%) would run out of clean water after two days, and over half (54%) would run out after six days. If power were shut off, one in ten (9%) would be without food after two days, and nearly half (44%) after six days (Figure 3).

Hurricane Katrina showed that families can get separated and communication can break down in the aftermath of a major storm, but most residents have not prepared for that possibility. Two in three (66%) have not agreed on a meeting place if their family is separated, and one in two (49%) have not agreed on a phone number outside the region that family members could call. Of those who intend to evacuate and need help to do so (13%), half (50%) do not have that help lined up (Figure 3).

Key Preparedness Information
Past experience with hurricanes has identified some critical information that people should know in order to be prepared for a storm. Many residents of high-risk areas were unaware of some key information. One out of three (34%) do not know if their home is located in an evacuation zone. Thirty-nine percent do not know the location of an evacuation center in their community where they could go if they had to (Figure 4).

A large majority of people would be at risk of eating food that has spoiled due to a loss of refrigeration in a power outage. The USDA recommends that perishable food should not be eaten if refrigeration has been turned off for four hours. Only one in five (20%) knew that perishable food would be safe for just a few hours. One in three (36%) said that food is safe for up to one day, one in four (25%) said two days, and 16% said three or more days. In addition, one in five did not know that each household member requires at least one gallon of clean water per day, the amount recommended by the CDC.

Hurricane Palms (iStock_000000510427Small.jpg)Problems During Past Hurricanes
Nearly one-half (46%) of the respondents in the survey live in communities that were damaged by a hurricane during the past three years. The survey asked them about the problems they had during these hurricanes in order to identify issues that could be prevented in future hurricanes. The most common problem was getting gas to evacuate (35%). Twenty percent reported they did not have enough money at some point, 14% did not have enough water and 12% did not have enough food. Of note, smaller numbers reported needing medical care but not getting it (5%), getting injured (5%) or being threatened by violence (3%) (Figure 5). One area where few people reported problems was getting the information they needed to keep themselves and their families safe (8%).

New Orleans
The survey included a sample of the New Orleans metropolitan area to see if residents there differed from other high-risk area residents. After their experiences during Hurricane Katrina, most New Orleans residents say they would evacuate for a future storm. Only 14% would not evacuate compared to 32% of residents of other high-risk areas. Six in ten (61%) do not know the location of an evacuation shelter if they needed to go to one, which is significantly more than residents of other areas (38%). Despite the dramatic images of people stranded during Katrina, over half (54%) of New Orleans residents are confident they would be rescued if they needed to be during a future storm (Figure 6).

“It is worrisome that New Orleans, the site of one of the most severe hurricanes in U.S. history, has such a large proportion of people who don’t know the location of an evacuation center,” said Professor Blendon. “An important priority for government and voluntary agencies should be to inform people of the location of shelters well before a storm hits.”

Even after Katrina, a substantial percentage of New Orleans residents are not prepared for a major storm. One-half of New Orleans residents (51%) have not agreed on a place for family to meet if they get separated. Thirty-nine percent have not agreed on a phone number outside the region that family members could call. A sizable percentage of New Orleans residents (23%) do not have more than two days of water if the water supply were cut off.

When asked to rate the response of government and voluntary agencies to the problems created by the last major hurricane, 78% percent of New Orleans residents said it was fair or poor compared to 39% of residents of other areas damaged by a hurricane. Only 19% of New Orleans residents said the response was excellent or good compared to 57% in other areas.

Problems Facing Minorities and Low-Income Residents of High-Risk Hurricane Areas
Hurricane Katrina illustrated the additional challenges facing minorities and the poor in these high-risk coastal areas during a major hurricane. This survey finds that although African-Americans (73%) and Latino-Americans (71%) are more likely than whites (59%) to say they would evacuate if government officials said they had to leave in the event of a major hurricane, they are also more likely to need help to do so. Seventeen percent of African-Americans and 10% of Latino-Americans say they need help to evacuate and do not have that help lined up compared to 3% of whites (Figure 7). Low-income residents also would have more problems evacuating than those who are better off financially. Eighteen percent of those making less than $25,000 a year and who intend to evacuate do not have the necessary help compared to 4% of those making $25,000 a year or more.

If minorities and low-income residents are unable to evacuate because they do not have help, they are less prepared to stay in their homes and weather the storm and its aftermath. Approximately one-third of African-Americans (32%), Latino-Americans (35%) and low-income residents (33%) say they are not prepared if a major hurricane were to strike their community in the next six months. This compares to 14% of whites and 19% of those making $25,000 a year or more. A greater percentage of African-Americans (18%), Latino-Americans (11%) and low-income residents (14%) do not have enough food on hand to last more than three days compared to whites (6%) and those making $25,000 a year or more (8%).

This is the 25th in a series of studies by the Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security. The study was designed and analyzed by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The project director is Robert J. Blendon of the Harvard School of Public Health. The research team also includes Tami Buhr, John M. Benson, and Kathleen J. Weldon of the Harvard School of Public Health, and Melissa J. Herrmann of ICR/International Communications Research. Fieldwork was conducted via telephone for the Project by ICR/International Communications Research of Media (PA) between June 18 and July 10, 2007.

The survey was conducted with a representative sample of 5,046 non-institutionalized adults ages 18 and over in high hurricane risk counties in eight states. Survey participants included residents of all counties within 20 miles of the coast in Alabama (503 interviews), Florida (1,006), Georgia (506), Louisiana (1,004), Mississippi (513), North Carolina (504), South Carolina (507), and Texas (503). The survey included 502 residents of the New Orleans metropolitan area, where interviews were conducted with adults from cellphone-only households, as well from households with landline telephones.

The results were weighted to represent the total adult population in the high hurricane risk counties of the region as a whole. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points; for the New Orleans-area sample, plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.

Possible sources of nonsampling error include nonresponse bias, as well as question wording and ordering effects. Nonresponse in telephone surveys produces some known biases in survey-derived estimates because participation tends to vary for different subgroups of the population. To compensate for these known biases, sample data are weighted to the most recent Census data available from the Current Population Survey for gender, age, race, education, as well as number of adults in the household. Other techniques, including random-digit dialing, replicate subsamples, callbacks staggered over times of day and days of the week, and systematic respondent selection within households, are used to ensure that the sample is representative.

The Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through a grant to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO). HSPH provides ASTHO and the CDC with technical assistance for public health communication by monitoring the response of the general public to public health threats.

For further information contact:

Robin Herman 617-432-4752 or
Todd Datz 617-432-3952.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More Heavy Weather

Once again, just to make a point. These pix's are ships (not boats) that encountered heavy seas. To be able to predict and "Forecasting Dangerous Waves" could very well reduce the loss of ships, cargo's and lives.

Imagine smaller vessels like the s/v Sean Seamour II and the s/v Flying Colours encountering waves that can do the damage that has been done to these ships.

Update on the

Situation update regarding the MSC NAPOLI. The wreck has been separated into two, and the bow section has been towed a short distance offshore. Plans call for the stern section to be cut up in situ. The Council expressed concern over use of its shoreline to beach the vessel. The Council issued a second update stating that a decision is pending on which port to tow the bow to for recycling. The contract to remove the stern has been tendered. (7/23/07). Thanks Dennis!


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

FR8 VENTURE Tragedy.

MAIB publishes report of FR8 VENTURE Tragedy.

Report into incident on tanker on 11th November 2006 which resulted in fatalities.

At about 1220 on 11 November 2006, while outbound from Scapa Flow and transiting the Pentland Firth, the 74,065 dwt Singaporean registered tanker, FR8 VENTURE, shipped two large waves over her bow. This resulted in the death of two able seamen (ABs) and serious injuries to an ordinary seaman (OS), all of whom were working on the forward mooring deck. The waves also caused minor damage to the ship.

From 10 to 11 November, FR8 VENTURE carried out a ship-to-ship transfer with another tanker, Perseverance, while at anchor in Scapa Flow, and loaded a full cargo of crude oil. The loading operations were completed at 0536, and Perseverance let go from FR8 VENTURE and left Scapa Flow. FR8 VENTURE weighed anchor at about 1054 and the two pilots disembarked near the entrance to Scapa Flow at about 1136. The wind was west to west-north-west and near gale force, with waves of about 4 to 5m high. The ship’s freeboard was about 6.6m and spray was being shipped on board. The tidal stream was flowing generally in the same direction as the wind.

After weighing anchor, the bosun and AB Kharva secured the port anchor, and began stowing three loose mooring lines down into the forward storeroom. AB Ravindra and an OS were stowing loose mooring lines away aft. At about 1210, the chief officer told AB Ravindra and the OS to go forward and help the bosun. AB Ravindra joined AB Kharva on the starboard winch platform to lash canvas covers around the mooring wires. The bosun instructed the OS to place a securing wire through the starboard anchor cable. At about 1220, just as the OS turned towards the anchor cable, a large wave was shipped over the bow. The ship pitched into the following trough and then a second larger wave was shipped on board. The two ABs were swept aft, towards and under the flying bridge. The OS was swept aft and came into contact with a protection plate for the forward liferaft. The bosun had managed to cling onto the storeroom door when the first wave was shipped, and then onto the ladder rungs of the foremast as the second wave swept over the foredeck; he remained uninjured.

The bridge team saw the seas being shipped on deck. The third officer released a manoverboard lifebuoy and smoke float from the bridge wing, and the general alarm was sounded, upon which the crew mustered at the emergency station. The OS managed to walk aft until he reached amidships, where he collapsed. All three injured men were taken to the accommodation.

FR8 VENTURE called Orkney Harbour Control to report the accident and to state that medical assistance would be needed. Orkney Harbour Control then informed Shetland Coastguard of the tanker’s emergency. Later, Shetland Coastguard arranged a radio telephone link between the ship’s master and a doctor at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. The Longhope RNLI lifeboat took the local doctor out to meet the ship, but the rough seas prevented the doctor from boarding the ship from the lifeboat. However, the Stornoway Coastguard rescue helicopter was able to transfer her to FR8 VENTURE.

Once onboard the vessel, the doctor determined that the two ABs had died of their injuries and the OS should be taken to hospital. The helicopter returned to the ship, landed an Orkney Harbour pilot and airlifted the doctor and the OS to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. The ship returned to Scapa Flow and anchored there at about 1800.

The investigation identified the following safety issues:

• The two large waves that were shipped over the bow could not have been considered abnormal and should have been expected in the prevailing weather conditions.
• The master should have delayed the sailing so that the ship could have been secured for sea in sheltered waters.
• Having decided to leave the shelter of Scapa Flow before the foredecks were secured for sea, the master’s assessment of the position by which the crew should have been clear of the foredeck of the ship allowed little margin for error. This should have prompted an effective plan of action.
• The plan could have concentrated the crew forward earlier, leaving the stowing of the after ropes until the fore part of the vessel had been secured.
• The plan should have prompted the need for precautionary measures, such as considering the option of turning the ship away from the weather, when safe and practicable to do so, to secure the anchors.

The managers of FR8 VENTURE have reviewed and amended their company SMS procedures for working on deck in heavy weather.

The relevant sections are as follows:

• The priority, which Master and Deck Officers should have is to ensure that when the vessel is either arriving or leaving port, the unsecuring or securing should be done as later or early as possible (basis whether vessel is arriving port or departing port) to ensure that crew are on deck and exposed to the elements for the least possible time.
• When departing port, most of the securing should be done prior leaving the berth or anchorage.
• When the vessel has left the berth or anchorage, the guiding principle should be to secure the vessel from forward to aft.
• It would be prudent to concentrate the manpower in one locale rather than spreading them out and trying to secure all over as a concentrated effort will mean a quicker securing [sic].

The MCA has issued a Safety Alert, which gives a brief outline of the accident and draws attention to the contents of Chapter 3 of the Admiralty Sailing Directions North Coast of Scotland Pilot, which warns mariners of strong tides, with large waves that frequently occur in the area of Pentland Firth.

In light of the actions taken as a result of this accident, the MAIB has issued no safety recommendations.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Forecasting Dangerous Waves

Lets meet another brand of storm chaser. Unlike the ones we see chasing tornado's, these storm chasers are chasing something we normally do not see right away and that causes havoc and hell on water.

We have talked about rogue and dangerous waves. I have and will continue to post some extraordinary pictures and videos of these waves and what they can do to ships, cargos and lives. Today I want to talk about the potential of forecasting dangerous waves. This would be indeed a ma jor advancement and benefit to both meteorology and the maritime communities.

The study of rogue waves is just getting underway. As I have noted Dr. Paul C. Liu of NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) has been studying these waves. GLERL has also been studying wave forecasting for the Great Lakes Region.

According to GLERL, " This project is designed to develop and fully implement a system of computerized models that can simulate and predict the three-dimensional structure of currents, temperatures, water level fluctuations, wind waves, ice, and sediments in the Great Lakes. The project will integrate these models with the required observational data systems into a real-time coastal prediction system. The project will make the information developed from this system available in a useful format and in a timely fashion to National Weather Service (NWS web site) forecasters, coastal users and resource managers".

NOAA/NWS has both a Ocean Prediction Center and Wavewatch III . But neither of these services accurately report on waves inside the Gulfstream. Why is this important? Currents or "moving water" play a important role in both effecting and determining dangerous waves. Why don't they report? Well its complex, they can to some degree but the technology is also not there yet to satisfy the powers to be. Maybe NOAA should consider this rather than spend $100 million on public relations? So lets take a look at another concept being proposed in wave forecasting called the; Gulfstream Hazard Scale, by professional satellite Oceanographer Jenifer Clark and husband Meteorologist Dane Clark.

In a letter date 18 July 2007 to the Director of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, the Clark's state, "
We have become increasingly alarmed by the large numbers of vessel sinkings and loss of life and property in the Gulfstream along the U.S. East Coast over the past several years. Just this spring, four more boats were sunk and four people were killed during an east coast storm that later became Tropical Storm Andrea -- even though this system was well forecast by NWS forecast models."

After talking with hundreds of mariners who have sailed in these waters over the years and recently completing a research report for a court trial involving the cruise liner "Norwegian Dawn", which was severely damaged with 400 passenger injuries in April 2005 after encountering 40-70 foot steep waves in the Gulfstream; we have concluded that mariners are not being adequately warned about the pote ntial danger when strong winds oppose strong ocean currents in the Gulfstream System (the main Gulfstream and eddies).

In the case of the Dawn, the Captain of that vessel testified that they had no idea they were sailing into those horrific conditions (see attached graphic). NWS forecasts indicated strong winds to 50 kts and significant wave heights to 27 feet, which were good forecasts outside the Gulfstream, but in the Gulfstream, seas were more than double that and these waves were much steeper and more difficult to navigate. Notations in the marine forecasts indicating "waves higher in the Gulfstream" were not very useful and mostly ignored since they are repeated in many offshore forecasts on a daily basis and contain no actionable data the mariner can use regarding the height or danger of these waves and their exact location.

Based on these and other cases we have examined, we feel that improvements are needed to alert mariners about specific threats about extreme and dangerous waves that exist in Gulfstream waters during these severe weather events,
The highest risk area corresponds to the area of maximum ocean currents flowing northward (estimated at 5 kts) and winds recorded on the Dawn between 4-6AM on 4/16 at 50-55 kts blowing from the north. This is where an estimated 60-80 foot wave struck the Dawn and caused most of the damage and injuries. Wave heights were observed to be as high as 40-45 feet through the Gulfstream waters that night before the larger, steeper wave hit the ship.

Recent international research efforts to examine extreme wave events, termed MaxWave, have concluded that dangerous extreme waves are much more common than historically believed (and not uncommon, as the terms "freak wave" and "rogue wave" would imply). The studies further stated that current technology is incapable of precisely forecasting these extreme waves at present, but that there are areas around the world that are known "hot-spots" for extreme waves, like the Gulfstream, where strong winds often oppose strong ocean currents.

(Route ( chart above ) of the Norwegian Dawn (purple) on April 15-16, 2005 superimposed on Jenifer Clark's high resolution Gulfstream Analysis. The gulfstream maximum current is indicated by large black arrows, isolines of the estimated magnitudes of ocean currents are color coded and small arrows indicate the direction of flow of all ocean currents on this meso-scale chart.)

Therefore, using our experience and information from other mariners, we have developed a Gulfstream Hazard Scale which is similar to other environmental scales (tornados, hurricanes, river rafting, avalanches, etc.,) used to educate, alert and warn.

An important aspect of this scale is the increased potential for extreme waves, as the scale increases from Cat 0 to Cat 8. These are correlated to specific recommended responses to the risk, or threat levels.

This scale is a concept and has not been used operationally. Since it is subjective in nature, we expect that modifications may be needed before it could be used to develop warning products. The most important parameters required are detailed, real-time ocean surface currents in the Gulfstream area (Jenifer has been doing this on a daily basis for nearly 30 years) and real-time and forecasts of meso-scale surface winds (available from the NWS models).

We would like to sit down with your staff and discuss the possibilities of the NWS using this scale (or a modified version) in your operations, possibly on a trial basis next year. We envision a graphical product similar to the Mariner's 1-2-3 Rule for Tropical Storms, to warn mariners of high risk areas in the Gulfstream during severe conditions. This type of precise warni ng, containing risk levels for exact locations and times, should greatly improve the mariner's ability to understand and perceive the danger. This should in turn, motivate the Captain/Navigator to avoid these threat areas, resulting in reductions in life and property losses."

As you can read in the Clark's letter and as I have pointed out in some of my past posts, the Hatteras Trench region is a very well known maritime grave yard due to the storms fueled by the gulfstream and its winds. As we can read in their letter, we do have a hole in assisting mariners in forecasting these events. Some of the factors involved in the proposed Gulfstream Hazard Scale will include;

CAT - Categories 0-8, Risk - Threat to vessels from extreme or dangerous waves -- WD/OP/CUR - wind opposing the current. DUR - duration and fetch of the wind. SIG/WV/HGT - significant wave height (as per the international definition) -- an average maximum of the highest third of the waves in the wave spectrum, X/WAVS - Extreme wave potential, Marine/Guide - situation and recommended actions per category, (*) - generally taken as surface winds blowing against or quartering against the flow of the gulfstream currents (main stream or eddies).

Note in the graphic above the stream encompasses both the main core (corps) and the eddies, something many mariners sometimes forget or just ignore. Now take a look at the cold eddies (below) during the 7 May 2007 Substropical storm andrea, when the s/v Sean Seamour II ran into trouble. Being able to predict the type of waves that the Sean Seamour II ran into, could have saved the sail boat from destruction and the crew from any hardships.

Also note the opposing winds to current from both northern quadrants . Remember strong winds in one direction with strong currents in the opposite direction can produce some very strong and active waves. Though some studies have shown that strong winds blowing from any directio n over gulfstream currents can also cause dangerous wave actions.

Its really this simple. Strong winds, strong currents, over time, means, very large waves. Its about being able to warn mariners in advance about these waves that can save ships, cargos and especially lives.

For further information on the Gulfstream Hazard Scale please visit,
Jenifer Clark's Gulfstream.


Friday, July 20, 2007

WebExclusive: EPIRBs and the s/v Sean Seamour II - Part II

This is the second in a series of reports on the "reported" malfunction of the ACR 406 Rapidfix EPIRB that was used by the s/v Sean Seamour II when the sailboat ran in trouble during Subtropical Storm Andrea.

I say "reported" malfunction becuase as of this writing, no scientific or technical review has been completed. But we do know that something did in fact go wrong with the EPIRB.

In my last post we reviewed a statement from the Master of the s/v Sean Seamour II of what the crew experienced with one of two EPIRBs.

We reviewed what a EPIRB is and how it operates. Today we will visit how it communicates with satellites and how the satellites communicate with rescue personnel. It is important to understand what the system is and how it operates before we jump into the problem encountered by the crew of the s/v Sean Seanour II. No matter what the problem with the Sean Seamour II's EPIRB was. The system is a very valuable asset to the maritime and rescue community. Here are some statistics on just what this system has done.

To date according to COSPAS-SARSAT the system as of: June 29, 2007, the system is responsible for the rescue of 190 persons in the United States.

The breakdown is as follows:
Rescues at sea: 147 people rescued in 43 incidents. Aviation rescues: 14 people rescued in 11 incidents. PLB rescues: 29 people rescued in 14 incidents . Worldwide – Over 20,300 People Rescued (since 1982). United States – 5,586 People Rescued (since 1982). As you can see the system is extremely valuable.

So lets let NOAA Satellite Information Services explain the "search and rescue satellites".

Low-Earth Orbiting Search And Rescue (LEOSAR) Satellites

The keystone to the Cospas-Sarsat System are the low-earth orbiting (LEO) satellites from which the system takes its name. These satellites provide the ability to detect and locate 406 MHz alerts worldwide and 121.5 MHz alerts for about sixty percent of the world.

SARSAT is an instrument package flown aboard the NOAA series of environmental satellites operated by NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS). These satellites orbit at an altitude of 528 miles and complete an orbit every 100 minutes. Their orbits are inclined 99 degrees from the equator. Typically, each satellite monitors the earth for various weather and climate data. Yet, each satellite also carries a Search and Rescue Repeater (SARR) which receives and retransmits 121.5 MHz, 243 MHz, and 406 MHz signals anytime the satellite is in view of a ground station. Also carried is a Search and Rescue Processor (SARP) which receives 406 MHz transmissions, provides measurements of the frequency and time, then retransmits this data in real-time and stores it aboard for later transmission. The satellite also stores each 406 MHz signal it receives and continuously downloads this data for up to 48 hours ensuring ground stations around the world receive it. That is, if the satellite was not in view of a ground station when it received a beacon signal, the next ground station that sees that satellite views will receive the data. This provides global coverage for 406 MHz distress signals. The SARR is provided by the Canadian Department of National Defence and the SARP is provided by the French Center National D'Etudes Spatiales (CNES).

The COSPAS instrument is carried aboard the NADEZHDA navigation satellite orbiting the Earth every 105 minutes at an altitude of 620 miles and an orbital inclination of 83 degrees. The COSPAS instrument was built by the former Soviet Union and continues to be operated by the Russian Federation. The only major difference between COSPAS and SARSAT is that the Russian satellites do not receive 243 MHz distress signals.

Geostationary Orbiting Search And Rescue (GEOSAR) Satellites

View from GOES-8As you can see from this image taken today from GOES-East, geostationary satellites are capable of continually viewing large areas of the Earth. These geostationary (GEO) satellites are also able to provide immediate alerting and identification of 406 MHz beacons. The GEO satellites are not able to use Doppler location processing since they have no relative motion between them and the emergency beacons. Therefore, they are not able to determine a location for a beacon. They can, however, provide immediate alerts. This is a valuable tool for SAR personnel since it allows them to begin their initial verification of the alert using the National 406 MHz Beacon Registration Database. Often this detective work yields a general location of the vessel or aircraft in distress and SAR assets can be readied or dispatched to that general area. Ideally, a SARSAT or COSPAS (LEO) satellite will fly over the beacon within the next hour and calculate a Doppler location which will be given to the SAR personnel who may already be enroute.

There is also one significant advantage with the GEOSAR constellation and that is the ability to use a GPS receiver with a 406 MHz beacon. Here’s how it works: specially made emergency beacons determine their location using a GPS receiver that is either integrated into the beacon (called a location protocol beacon) or fed by an external GPS receiver. This accurate location information (generally around a football field in size for positional accuracy) is then encoded into the 406 MHz signal that is transmitted by the beacon. The USMCC then receives that signal with the location and notifies the RCC accordingly. This information can often be derived in a matter of minutes! Since every second counts in reaching the scene of a distress this means that there is an increased chance of survival.

Without a doubt, the early warning capability of the GEOSAR constellation provides a valuable tool to increase the effectiveness of the Cospas-Sarsat system and, ultimately, save more lives ; First, a GPS-equipped beacon only works when the receiver has a clear view of the sky in order to permit the receiver to self-locate. Often times, conditions do not permit this which may either distort the positional accuracy or negate it altogether. Because of this, the Cospas-Sarsat System relies upon the Doppler locating effect as the primary means for locating a beacon. This process is able to overcome the limitations of a GPS unit and still generate a fairly accurate location…within a mile for positional accuracy. Secondly, the GEOSAR component only works if the beacon is registered with NOAA. Without registration, the RCCs are unable to react as quickly…and ultimately this may delay a SAR response should you be in an emergency. If you have a 406 MHz beacon and have not registered it, please do so by clicking here to access the National 406 MHz Registration Database.

For further information visit NOAAs Low-Earth Orbiting Search And Rescue (LEOSAR) Satellites page.

As you can see ther system has come a very long way since 1982 and it has experienced it share of problems. I am sure it will continue to have its problems while NOAA and
COSPAS-SARSAT continue its advances. It is my hope that these clitches are limited and without loss of life.

In Part III, we will go back to the future and visit with the pre-trip check of the s/v Sean Seamour II. One maritime note of interest. Thank to Dennis L. Bryant of
Holland & Knight LLP. UK – report on loss of lives due to large waves

The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) released the joint report of the investigation undertaken by it and the Singapore Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) concerning the loss of two lives and one seriously injured crewmember on a tanker at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands on 11 November 2006. The tanker was outbound and four crewmembers were at the bow stowing loose mooring lines. Two large waves shipped over the bow. Three of the crewmembers were swept aft by the waves and incurred serious injuries. Two of the crewmembers died of their injuries. Investigation revealed that the two waves were not abnormal in the prevailing weather conditions. The master should have delayed sailing until the ship was secured for sea. The owners have amended their safety management system to include these recommendations. Report No. 16/2007 (7/18/07).

Have a great weekend!


Previous Posts;

EPIRBs and the s/v Sean Seamour II
NHC Report on Subtropical Storm Andrea
Cheating Death On The High Seas
The s/v Sean Seamour II & The Hatteras Trench
High Sea's Update On Sean Seamour II
The Story of the Sailing Vessel Sean Seamour II

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Second in a Series; Subsea Atmospheres

To continue my series on the topic of subsea atmospheres. Not only will we focused on underwater weather systems of our oceans, but also how subsea atmosphere's extend and effect our bays.

To continue with my series here is a interesting article titled;

Predicting Underwater Weather,
By Michael W. Fincham,

There's a weather under the Bay, complete with high-pressure systems, low-pressure systems, several kinds of fronts and two kinds of slow-moving jet streams. Think of physical oceanographers as meteorologists of this underwater world. As they figure out the physics that controls the system, they should be able to predict the underwater weather more accurately - and take a lot of guesswork out of the forecasting game that so many people have to play.

Like a band of robots, CBOS buoys stand watch over the Bay. Some stay on station year after year, like the one off the Choptank River. Others come and go, moved to monitor a particular area, or pulled for fear of ice. Shown on the map are a string of buoys, some on station and some still proposed, waiting for the region's next investment in remote sensing. Artwork by Bill Boicourt.

Those were the selling points when Chesapeake Bay Observing System (CBOS) began - better physics and better forecasting. Over the last 15 years, Bill Boicourt has kept the system running despite hurricanes, lightning strikes, icy winters, vandalism and up-and-down funding cycles. Funding so far has come from more than three dozen sources. That's a lot of grant writing, but it has allowed Boicourt to keep buying new buoys, rebuilding old ones and restocking them with the latest in advanced sensing gear. In years of good funding he's had seven buoys taking data simultaneously.

Physics and forecasting, according to Boicourt, are still the selling points for CBOS-like systems expanded to cover the entire Bay and the Mid-Atlantic coastal waters. CBOS may soon morph into a newer, larger network of buoys and land-relay towers, capable of relaying even more real-time data about the weather above and below the Bay. The results could boost Chesapeake Bay science and help protect the Maryland economy.

If the future arrives according to Boicourt's forecast, CBOS could evolve into a cooperative regional system with more stable funding and more partners from academe, state and federal government, and private corporations. Players could include the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), Old Dominion University, the Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA's National Ocean Service, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Alliance for Coastal Technologies, and state agencies in Maryland and Virginia. The result would be a cooperative system, perhaps with a new name, that would provide real-time weather and water data from the head of the Bay all the way out onto the Continental Shelf.

There are even larger plans afloat. Congress is now considering a proposal for funding and expanding systems like CBOS and linking them together into a larger coastal network. That could mean more money and more acronyms. CBOS might be renamed and linked into something called IOOS (Integrated Ocean Observing System) or C-GOOS (Coastal Global Ocean Observing Systems), both of which would be part of an overall system called GOOS. Those plans drew a major endorsement last week in the Preliminary Report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.

The science prize is long-term data that oceanographers can use for figuring out the physics of the Bay and other coastal systems in greater detail. Better forecasts are also in those details, especially details about water temperatures, winds on the Bay, waves and currents that result from those winds.

The practical prizes are real-time products forecasting what the system is doing today and tomorrow. That's important for big commercial shippers who need to know water levels up in Baltimore Harbor and small recreational boaters who want to know wave conditions out on the mainstem. Real-time models of current flows would help with search-and-rescue missions and with emergency responses to natural disasters like storm surges and human accidents like oil spills and chemical leaks. CBOS can even help with Homeland Security with high-frequency radar that helps track large and small ships as they move about the Bay.

In my next installment we are going to talk about a new potential concept that will help warn mariners of large and dangerous waves. The Gulfstream Hazard Scale. Under development by a Oceanographer and Meteorologist, Jenifer and Dane Clark.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

WebExclusive: EPIRBs and the s/v Sean Seamour II

This is the first in a series of very serious and important reports on one of the mysteries we have not yet discussed about the sinking of the s/v Sean Seamour II and the harrowing rescue of its crew.

The potential malfunction of one of the EPIRBs that was activated after the sailboat was struck and sunk by a very powerful wave during Subtropical Storm Andrea.

In doing the research and deciding to write about this issue, let me be very clear. It is not my intention to single out any one manufacturer of EPIRBs, since there has been problems and concerns with a host of EPIRBs throughout their development and deployment. But this current issue has some very critical ramifications and lessons for all mariners who use any type of EPIRB. I will also note that as of this writing, the entire episode regarding this EPIRB is under investigation by both the United States Coast Guard and by independent technical specialists on behalf of the Master of the Sean Seamour II.

I am also very sure that ACR Electronics of Fort Lauderdale, Florida is also very concerned and interested in getting to the bottom of the cause of the potential malfunction.

Let's start by going back into the log of the s/v Sean Seamour II;

"immediately after the knockdown, I initiated the EPIRB, an ACR 406 Rapidfix. A half hour later , I realized that the strobe light was no longer functioning and that the intensity of the "on" light had dropped considerably.

I reinitialized the unit, with no further success whereas I had the unit re-certified two weeks before. But far worst yet is the fact that the Coast Guard received the signal but attributed it to another vessel! In their database my ID corresponded to a boat in Alabama. The Coast Guard immediately called the point of contact indicated in the database, having to wake up the owner at three am to be told "no I have not initiated my EPIRB.

They asked him to disconnect the battery... and the signal stop emitting at that approximate moment - about the same time my unit stopped functioning! Considering this, they decided to stop the search on this signal! What saved me, is that I had kept the EPIRB from a preceding boat, Lou Pantaï. This second EPIRB was held in its cradle on the inside of the hard dodger. Upon the first knockdown this structure was sheared off the boat and sank, but luckily, the 11 year old EPIRB went into hydrostatic release and provided the Coast Guard with Lu Pantaï ID. It is this one that they sought and found - failing that none of us would have survived.

There is therefore two faults: the first relating to the registration of the EPIRB, this was done by a UK company, the second by the manufacturer' accredited service station who pronounced the unit valid, when this was not the case."

In up coming postings we are going to take a very close look at EPIRBs and especially the ACR 406 MHz EPIRB Rapidfix with GPS Interface Category II, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and the two issues as outlined by the s/v Sean Seamour II's Master. "The registration of the EPIRB, this was done by a UK company, the second by the manufacturer' accredited service station who pronounced the unit valid, when this was not the case".

Before we take a look and investigate what went wrong with this EPIRB and there are many possibilities, we must first understand what a EPIRB really is and how it works.

What is an EPIRB and how does it work?

EPIRB stands for Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. An EPIRB is meant to help rescuers locate you in an emergency situation, and these radios have saved many lives since their creation in the 1970s. Boaters are the main users of EPIRBs.

A modern EPIRB is a sophisticated device that contains:

Once activated, both of the radios start transmitting. Approximately 24,000 miles (39,000 km) up in space, a GOES weather satellite in a geosynchronous orbit can detect the 406-MHz signal. Embedded in the signal is a unique serial number, and, if the unit is equipped with a GPS receiver, the exact location of the radio is conveyed in the signal as well. If the EPIRB is properly registered, the serial number lets the Coast Guard know who owns the EPIRB. Rescuers in planes or boats can home in on the EPIRB using either the 406-MHz or 121.5-MHz signal.

Older EPIRBs did not contain the GPS receiver, so the GOES satellite received only a serial number. To locate the EPIRB, another set of satellites (like the TIROS-N satellite) orbiting the planet in a low polar orbit could pick up the signal as it passed overhead. This would give a rough fix on the location, but it took several hours for a satellite to come into range.

Types of EPIRBs

Emergency position indicating radiobeacons (EPIRBs), devices which cost from $200 to about $1500, are designed to save your life if you get into trouble by alerting rescue authorities and indicating your location. EPIRB types are described below:

Class A
121.5/243 MHZ. Float-free, automatically-activating, detectable by aircraft and satellite. Coverage is limited. An alert from this device to a rescue coordination center may be delayed 4 - 6 or more hours. These devices have been phased out by the FCC and are no longer recognized.
Class B
121.5/243 MHZ. Manually activated version of Class A. These devices have been phased out by the FCC and are no longer recognized.
Class C
VHF ch15/16. Manually activated, operates on maritime channels only. Not detectable by satellite. These devices have been phased out by the FCC and are no longer recognized.
Class S
121.5/243 MHZ. Similar to Class B, except it floats, or is an integral part of a survival craft. These devices have been phased out by the FCC and are no longer recognized.
Category I
406/121.5 MHZ. Float-free, automatically activated EPIRB. Detectable by satellite anywhere in the world. Recognized by GMDSS.
Category II
406/121.5 MHZ. Similar to Category I, except is manually activated. Some models are also water activated.
Inmarsat E
1646 MHZ. Float-free, automatically activated EPIRB. Detectable by Inmarsat geostationary satellite. Recognized by GMDSS. Currently not sold in the U.S.; however, the Federal Communications Commission is considering recognizing these devices. This service will end 12/31/2006.

121.5/243 MHz EPIRBs

These are the most common and least expensive type of EPIRB, designed to be detected by overflying commercial or military aircraft. Satellites were designed to detect these EPIRBs, but are limited for the following reasons:

  1. Satellite detection range is limited for these EPIRBs (satellites must be within line of sight of both the EPIRB and a ground terminal for detection to occur),
  2. Frequency congestion in the band used by these devices cause a high satellite false alert rate (99.8%); consequently, confirmation is required before search and rescue forces can be deployed,
  3. EPIRBs manufactured before October 1989 may have design or construction problems (e.g. some models will leak and cease operating when immersed in water), or may not be detectable by satellite. Such EPIRBs may no longer be sold,
  4. Because of location ambiguities and frequency congestion in this band, two or more satellite passes are necessary to determine if the signal is from an EPIRB and to determine the location of the EPIRB, delaying rescue by an average of 4 to 6 hours. In some cases, a rescue can be delayed as long as 12 hours.
  5. COSPAS-SARSAT is expected to cease detecting alerts by 2008.

One November 3, 2000, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that satellite processing 121.5/243 MHz emergency beacons will be terminated on February 1, 2009. Class A and B EPIRBs must be phased out by that date. The U.S. Coast Guard no longer recommends these EPIRBs be purchased.

As part of the United States efforts to prepare beacon users for the end of 121.5 MHz frequency processing by satellites, the FCC has prohibited the use of 121.5 MHz EPIRBs as of January 1, 2007 (47 CFR 80.1053, .1055, and .1059)

406 MHz EPIRBs

The 406 MHz EPIRB was designed to operate with satellites. The signal frequency (406 MHz) has been designated internationally for use only for distress. Other communications and interference, such as on 121.5 MHz, is not allowed on this frequency. Its signal allows a satellite local user terminal to accurately locate the EPIRB (much more accurately -- 2 to 5 km vice 25 km -- than 121.5/243 MHz devices), and identify the vessel (the signal is encoded with the vessel's identity) anywhere in the world (there is no range limitation). These devices are detectable not only by COSPAS-SARSAT satellites which are polar orbiting, but also by geostationary GOES weather satellites. EPIRBs detected by the GEOSTAR system, consisting of GOES and other geostationary satellites, send rescue authorities an instant alert, but without location information unless the EPIRB is equipped with an integral GPS receiver. EPIRBs detected by COSPAS-SARSAT (e.g. TIROS N) satellites provide rescue authorities location of distress, but location and sometimes alerting may be delayed as much as an hour or two. These EPIRBs also include a 121.5 MHz homing signal, allowing aircraft and rescue craft to quickly find the vessel in distress. These are the only type of EPIRB which must be certified by Coast Guard approved independent laboratories before they can be sold in the United States.

A new type of 406 MHz EPIRB, having an integral GPS navigation receiver, became available in 1998. This EPIRB will send accurate location as well as identification information to rescue authorities immediately upon activation through both geostationary (GEOSAR) and polar orbiting satellites. These types of EPIRB are the best you can buy.

406 MHz emergency locating transmitters (ELTs) for aircraft are currently available. 406 MHz personnel locating beacons (PLBs) are available.

The Coast Guard recommends you purchase a 406 MHz EPIRB, preferably one with an integral GPS navigation receiver. A Cat I EPIRB should be purchased if it can be installed properly.

406 MHz GEOSAR System

The major advantage of the 406 MHz low earth orbit system is the provision of global Earth coverage using a limited number of polar-orbiting satellite. Coverage is not continuous, however, and it may take up to a couple of hours for an EPIRB alert to be received. To overcome this limitation, COSPAS-SARSAT has 406 MHz EPIRB repeaters aboard three geostationary satellites, plus one spare: GOES-W, at 135 deg W; GOES-E, at 75 deg W; INSAT-2A, at 74 deg E; and INSAT-2B (in-orbit spare), at 93.5 deg E. Ground stations capable of receiving 406 MHz. Except for areas between the United Kingdom and Norway, south of the east coast of Australia, and the area surrounding the Sea of Okhotsk near Russia, as well as polar areas, GEOSAR provides continuous global coverage of distress alerts from 406 MHz EPIRBs.

Note that GEOSAR cannot detect 121.5 MHz alerts, nor can it route unregistered 406 MHz alerts to a rescue authority. GEOSAR cannot calculate the location of any alert it receives, unless the beacon has an integral GPS receiver.


COSPAS-SARSAT is an international satellite-based search and rescue system established by the U.S., Russia, Canada and France to locate emergency radio beacons transmitting on the frequencies 121.5, 243 and 406 MHZ.

Space System for Search of Distress Vessels (a Russian acronym)
Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking

Testing EPIRBs

406 MHz EPIRBs can be tested through its self-test function, which is an integral part of the device. 406 MHz EPIRBs can also be tested inside a container designed to prevent its reception by the satellite. Testing a 406 MHz EPIRB by allowing it to radiate outside such a container is illegal.

Battery Replacement

406 MHz EPIRBs use a special type of lithium battery designed for long-term low-power consumption operation. Batteries must be replaced by the date indicated on the EPIRB label using the model specified by the manufacturer. It should be replaced by a dealer approved by the manufacturer. If the replacement battery is not the proper type, the EPIRB will not operate for the duration specified in a distress.

Registration of 406 MHz EPIRBs

Proper registration of your 406 MHz satellite emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) is intended to save your life, and is mandated by Federal Communications Commission regulations. The Coast Guard is enforcing this FCC registration rule.

Your life may be saved as a result of registered emergency information. This information can be very helpful in confirming that a distress situation exists, and in arranging appropriate rescue efforts. Also, GOES, a geostationary National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration weather satellite system can pick up and relay an EPIRB distress alert to the Coast Guard well before the international COSPAS-SARSAT satellite can provide location information. If the EPIRB is properly registered, the Coast Guard will be able to use the registration information to immediately begin action on the case. If the EPIRB is unregistered, a distress alert may take as much as two hours longer to reach the Coast Guard over the international satellite system. If an unregistered EPIRB transmission is abbreviated for any reason, the satellite will be unable to determine the EPIRB's location, and the Coast Guard will be unable to respond to the distress alert. Unregistered EPIRBs have needlessly cost the lives of several mariners since the satellite system became operational.

What happens to your registration form?

The registration sheet you fill out and send in is entered into the U.S. 406 Beacon Registration Database maintained by NOAA/NESDIS. If your EPIRB is activated, your registration information will be sent automatically to the appropriate USCG SAR Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) for response. One of the first things the RCC watchstanders do is attempt to contact the owner/operator at the phone number listed in the database to determine if the vessel is underway (thus ruling out the possibility of a false alarm due to accidental activation or EPIRB malfunction), the intended route of the vessel if underway, the number of people on board, etc., from a family member. If there is no answer at this number, or no information, the other numbers listed in the database will be called to attempt to get the information described above needed to assist the RCC in responding appropriately to the EPIRB alert.

When RCC personnel contact the emergency phone numbers you provide, they will have all the information you have provided on the registration form. You should let these contacts know as much about your intended voyage as possible (i.e., intended route, stops, area you normally sail/fish/recreate, duration of trip, number of people going, etc.). The more information these contacts have, the better prepared our SAR personnel will be to react. The contacts can ask the RCC personnel contacting them to be kept informed of any developments, if they so desire.

Registration regulations

You may be fined for false activation of an unregistered EPIRB. The U.S. Coast Guard routinely refers cases involving the non-distress activation of an EPIRB (e.g., as a hoax, through gross negligence, carelessness or improper storage and handling) to the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC will prosecute cases based upon evidence provided by the Coast Guard, and will issue warning letters or notices of apparent liability for fines up to $10,000.

However, the Coast Guard has suspended forwarding non-distress activations of properly registered 406 MHz EPIRBs to the FCC, unless activation was due to hoax or gross negligence, since these search and rescue cases are less costly to prosecute.

If you purchase a new or a used 406 MHz EPIRB, you MUST register it with NOAA. If you change your boat, your address, or your primary phone number, you MUST re-register your EPIRB with NOAA. If you sell your EPIRB, make sure the purchaser re-registers the EPIRB, or you may be called by the Coast Guard if it later becomes activated.

An FCC ship station license is no longer required to purchase or carry an EPIRB.

How to register

You may register by visiting the SARSAT Beacon Registration page.

There is no charge for this service. IT MAY SAVE YOUR LIFE.

For more information see the NOAA SARSAT Homepage

In the next report we will visit how the system communicates between satellite and rescue personnel.

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