Wheelhouse Weekly – February 10, 2012

February 10th 2012


– Bridging the Information Gap With E-News You Can Use –

Volume 16 . . . . . Special Edition. . . . February 10, 2012

HORIZON RELIANCE Plucks Three From Pacific in Breathtaking, Night-Time Rescue

The officers and crew of HORIZON RELIANCE saved the lives of three people whose sailboat had lost all means of propulsion in a rough winter storm about 140 miles northeast of Hilo, Hawaii, on Wednesday night. HORIZON RELIANCE Master James Kelleher Jr. and his 28-person crew carried out the rescue at night, in extremely adverse conditions, with winds gusting 55 miles an hour and waves ranging 20-25 feet.

Along with Capt. Kelleher, the MM&P members who participated in the dramatic rescue were Chief Mate Steven Itson, Second Mate Mark Lloyd and Third Mate Scott Phelps. Members of the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA) and the Seafarers’ International Union (SIU) played crucial roles in the operation—a combination of masterful shiphandling, tenacity and teamwork—in the face of tremendous odds.

“It was incredible it turned out the way it did,” said one of the rescued men, Bradley James, who had been traveling in the sailboat from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to Hawaii, with his nine-year-old son, West, and brother, Mitch.

Chief Mate Steven Itson was on watch when HORIZON RELIANCE received a call from the Coast Guard stating that the sailing vessel LIAHONA was in need of assistance. Capt. Kelleher altered course to intercept the position, 147.5 miles away. The RELIANCE sighted the sailboat at 0103 hours, in rapidly deteriorating weather conditions, with winds gusting to 55 knots and seas running in excess of 20 feet. “At no time did we ever pick up the sailboat on either the X-band or S-band radars due to the seas and the fact that the fiberglass hull was so close to water’s edge,” the captain said.

The vessel was slowed to maneuvering speed and all hands mustered on the main deck, the forecastle head, the bridge and in the engine room. The officers planned to maneuver the vessel alongside the sailboat and try to make a lee, then use a line-throwing apparatus and finally a combination ladder to bring the three onboard. The back-up plan was to maneuver the sailboat further aft and use the vessel’s stores cranes to hoist them aboard.

“The sailboat was lying broadside to the wind and seas, unable to maneuver, basically perpendicular to the vessel’s approach to the southwest on a heading of 215 degrees,” according to the captain’s report. He maneuvered the vessel with the sailboat on the port bow, directly into the wind and seas, and approached closely at a speed of approximately 1.5 knots. The bow thruster was enabled at this point to assist with the maneuver. When the sailboat was close aboard at an estimated distance of 1/8th of a mile, the Master began to turn to port, using the rudder and bow thruster.”

“The vessel began to turn slowly as the sailboat was suddenly heaved up by a large wave and fell in the trough. Then the motion repeated a second time. The sailboat was propelled towards the ship as the winds caught the bow and forward superstructure of the vessel. The vessel fell off the wind to port and this motion could not be checked by the rudder or bow thruster. The bulbous bow pitched deeply and rose completely out of the water in a deep wave, rising up and striking the forward portion of the sailboat. The bow continued to fall off the wind to port and the sailboat drifted aft alongside the starboard side of the vessel close aboard.”

“Line throwing projectiles were fired, but the three individuals on the boat, all located aft in the cockpit, did not notice or were unable to retrieve the line. The sailboat began sinking and within a very short timeframe had dropped below the surface of the water. The three individuals began drifting apart, two towards the bow and one towards the vessel’s starboard side. Lines and life rings were deployed, and Mitchell James was able to grab hold of one of these lines. He was quickly brought alongside below the forecastle head of the starboard bow. Lines were quickly run outboard and around the house and Mitchell was brought beneath the starboard pilot combination ladder. He climbed the ladder and was then assisted up the gangway to safety on the main deck at 0230 hours.”

“The two other individuals, West and Bradley James, had drifted rapidly forward around the pitching bulbous bow and were swept to port by the wind and seas,” the captain’s report continued. “Seeing them separating and moving away, the Master ordered two lookouts to watch them, or their water lights, with a spotlight affixed to them. The Chief Mate ordered an A.B. to do the same from the forecastle deck. We never lost sight of them despite the distance and the reduced visibility from the driving rain that had begun as the expected cold front reached the vessel from the west.”

“The wind shifted 90 degrees to the northwest and began gusting to well over 55 knots. The Master maneuvered the vessel to maintain a safe platform for Mitchell to board upon, then immediately began a turn to port once he was aboard. The vessel approached the two individuals still in the water as quickly as possible. On approach to their position, the winds forced the bow to port and the combination of bow thruster; rudder and engine were unable to bring the bow to starboard. The two individuals remained off the starboard bow in close proximity, but the Master was unable to bring the vessel any closer. Repeated attempts to reach them with the line-throwing appliance failed.”

“With no other option, the Master began a series of backing and filling maneuvers using the rudder, engine and bow thruster to try to bring the bow to starboard and closer to the two people in the water. They were drifting away at a faster pace than the vessel drifted, and their distance was increasing. Visibility was extremely limited in the driving rain and we were beginning to have difficulty maintaining a visual line of sight on them.”

“After approximately 30 minutes, the backing and filling maneuver, along with hard over rudder commands and the thruster full to starboard, the vessel finally began to work its way into the wind and eventually turned to starboard. The speed was again checked with astern bells to not overshoot the two individuals in the water. Once the bow fell off the wind to starboard, it began to rapidly turn. The thruster was put full to port, speed checked, and a line to West and Bradley James was secured at 0318 hours. The vessel remained dead in the water as they were maneuvered alongside and to the pilot combination ladder. At 0324 hours both West and Bradley James were safely brought aboard the main deck of the vessel.”

The three Canadians were examined and nine-year-old West James was treated for mild hypothermia. He recovered quickly. All were given dry clothes, fed a hot meal and were in excellent spirits, alert and in good shape overall.

“There was a while there we didn’t think we’d step foot on land,” Bradley James said. “When I got up there on the ladder, they got me out of the life ring and got me ready to board the boat. And it was just a gauntlet of happiness. There was tons of people there, and it was all these grown men, and most of us had tears in our eyes. And from that point on, I just came to realize what this was. And how difficult this was. And how incredible it turned out the way it did.”

Capt. Kelleher, MM&P, MEBA and SIU mariners aboard the HORIZON RELIANCE received a letter of congratulations from MM&P International President Tim Brown and the other members of the union’s General Executive Board. “MM&P salutes the seamanship and professional skill of Capt. Kelleher, the mates, engineers and entire crew of the HORIZON RELIANCE. Your successful rescue of three mariners from the sea at night in storm conditions is in the finest tradition the U.S Merchant Marine and American seafaring labor. Your MM&P brothers and sisters salute you: an amazing job, well done.”

“We are thankful the HORIZON RELIANCE was in the right place at the right time to come to the aid of these individuals,” said William A. Hamlin, Horizon Lines senior vice-president of operations, in a release. “We commend Capt. Kelleher and his crew for their skilled seamanship in accomplishing a successful rescue despite very adverse weather conditions.”

The MM&P Wheelhouse Weekly is the official electronic newsletter of the International Organization of Masters, Mates, and Pilots, ILA, AFL-CIO, 700 Maritime Blvd. Suite B, Linthicum Heights, MD 21090-1953. Phone: 410-850-8700; Fax: 410-850-0973; Email: For further info or to subscribe contact Lisa Rosenthal at The Wheelhouse Weekly is sent via Email to MM&P-contracted vessels at sea and is posted on our web page.

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