Many Coast Guard members stationed in Alaska have stories of tragedies that can never be forgotten. Former Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis crewmember Joe Borosh commented that often they would receive an SOS from a fishing vessel off the coast of Alaska, and upon arrival they would find only debris and bodies. In one particularly unsettling case, they arrived at the location and saw a man floating. “He was waving at us, and we proceeded towards the man. On arrival, I grabbed the man’s hand only to realize he was dead, frozen solid. He was bobbing in the water rather than waving at us.”
The weather in Alaska is unforgiving, with proof given in the numerous ship disasters that have occurred in Alaskan waters. Coast Guard regulations regarding the fishing industry have gradually improved safety through the years, but have not prevented accidents from happening – a reminder that Mother Nature is still in charge. On April 1, 2001, the Arctic Rose sank in the Bering Sea, with the loss of fifteen men. It was deemed one of the worst commercial fishing accidents in the last century. Weather conditions at the time were reported as treacherous, with winds up to forty-five knots and seas to twenty-four feet. In March of 2008, the fishing trawler Alaska Ranger sank 120 miles west of Dutch Harbor. Forty-two of the forty-seven crewmembers survived the ordeal. Many were suffering from hypothermia.
The Aleutian Islands are widely known as a graveyard of past shipwrecks. Since the first grounding of a Japanese whaling ship in 1780 near the western end of the 1,100-mile volcanic archipelago, there have been at least 190 shipwrecks in the islands. These shipwrecks are due in large part to the geography of international shipping; it is the shortest route between ports of Asia and North America. An estimated 3,100 vessels travel this route each year. In the past two decades, shipwrecks have become less frequent, but larger. In 1997, the freighter Kuroshima ran aground on Unalaska Island spilling over 39,000 gallons of fuel. In December, 2004, the 738-foot Malaysia-flagged vessel ‘Selendang Ayu,’ ran aground, spilling over 328,000 gallons of fuel, the second largest spill in Alaska since the ‘Exxon Valdez’ spill in 1989. This incident inspired the book “On the Edge of Survival,” by acclaimed author Spike Walker. Walker describes the rescue of the ship’s crew in severe Alaskan winter conditions as “One of the most incredible Coast Guard rescue missions of all time.”
Another weather concern amongst Coast Guard members were williwaws. A williwaw, or katabatic wind, is described as a sudden violent gust of cold land air, common along mountainous coasts at high latitudes. They are quite common in Alaska in which cold, dense air is pulled down from the mountains toward the ocean where it will stir up winds and waves. David Landis, who has over fifty years sea time as a commercial mariner with many of those sailing the waters of Alaska, commented that “The Aleutian chain is a series of islands that jut upwards from sea level in an almost vertical ascension. Also known is that winds in this area particularly, are susceptible to higher gusts thru bays and passes, giving rise to williwaws. Dutch Harbor is a bay, and you have passes on either side.”
Dutch Harbor itself is relatively well protected from the elements, surrounded both by high mountains and low-lying land areas. This can change dramatically in the winter months when storms can strike with very little warning, particularly with williwaws.
Captain Peter Garay, a former maritime pilot with over fifteen years of years of western Alaska sailing, describes his experiences with williwaws distinctly:
“The williwaws, powerful winter winds that come avalanching down the steep slopes of the surrounding mountains, are the worst. Forget about the normal physics of ship handling; they don’t work. Nothing goes right. Imagine being at work and the ship you are on no longer behaves in any conventional manner. Suddenly you are heeling over 10° as a wall of wind and snow crashes against the ship’s sides. Visibility drops to zero, and your vessel starts to move sideways like a giant crab. Everyone is scared.”
Regarding anchorage, the official mariner reference, the Coast Pilot, describes Dutch Harbor as “exposed to the strong winds which may be encountered in the area. Violent williwaws are experienced during gales, especially from the southwest.” When you take into account the severe weather – including the notorious severe williwaws and the extremely cold, windy, ice and wet conditions and high sea waves – you have the makings of a disastrous situation.
Nowhere can a better example be given of the direct effects of a williwaw than from the grounding and near sinking of the Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis in November of 1972. The service’s newest ship, the Jarvis was in Alaska to enforce fishery regulations. Forced into a nearby Dutch Harbor anchorage due to an approaching storm, the Jarvis was struck by winds that had increased on the leeward side of the mountain from eighteen to forty knots, with the Jarvis’ unit logs noting ‘experiencing strong williwaws.’ The anchor failed to hold and the ship went aground, tearing a hole in the bottom of the hull, with minor flooding in the engine room. After temporarily repairing the damage, the ship attempted to sail home to Honolulu the next day, only to be struck by a more violent storm, tearing away the patch. The engine room flooded with over thirteen feet of water, disabling the engines. The Jarvis now floated powerless in the Pacific Ocean while being struck with wind gusts at seventy knots, hail and snow falling. At one time, the ship hit a swell at a sixty-degree angle. If not for the arrival of a Japanese fishing vessel that towed the Jarvis to safety, the ship was only thirty minutes away from hitting the rocky shoreline of Akutan Island, which would have killed most – if not all – of the ship’s crew.
Capt. Steven J. Craig (USCGR, ret’d) is a retired Coast Guard Reserve captain with over 38 years of active and reserve service. This post is an excerpt from his new book, “All Present and Accounted For,” the true story of the grounding and near sinking of the Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis off the coast of Alaska in November of 1972. For more information, visit www.stevenjcraigbooks.com.
A massive fire broke out at the Port of Beirut on Thursday, incinerating a warehouse full of tires and oil within the port’s free zone. The same area was heavily damaged in the ammonium nitrate explosion that leveled the central port area and the adjacent waterfront on August 4. According to Lebanon’s civil defense agency, […]
Over the course of the past five days, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority arranged a medical intervention for an injured aboard a freighter in the Indian Ocean. On Saturday evening, the Spliethoff tweendecker Dolfijngracht called for assistance while under way about 1,000 nauical miles off the coast of Western Australia. A crewmember had sustained serious […]
The naval forces of the US and Bahrain recently staged a joint force training exercise which showcased the interoperability between coalition warships operating I the Arabian Gulf. Coalition Task Force Sentinel executed combined exercise Sentinel Shield supporting Sentry and Sentinel patrols in the coalition’s area of operations. The guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones and […]
The U-Freight Group (UFL), with its considerable involvement in eCommerce logistics, says that the latest statistics showing that global e-commerce sales hit $25.6 trillion in 2018 are a further vindication of its decision to enter this sector of the international freight market several years ago. The latest available estimates, up 8% from 2017, were recently […]
DSV Belgium has solid experience in the transport of pharmaceutical products for different customers. With a pharma hub based at Brussels Airport a lot of experience and know-how has been built up over the years. Last weekend, the forwarder handled one hundred million mouth masks, an important milestone for its Belgian organisation that has put […]
The UK government’s new post-Brexit tariff regime will result in both winners and losers. The new regime is set to replace the European Union’s Common External Tariff from the end of the Brexit Transition Period on December 31, 2020. The UK’s commitment to the ongoing Brexit process and ending the UK’s transition from EU membership […]
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a Marine Accident Brief about an accident that occurred on April 15, 2019, involving the towing vessel DeJeanne Maria which struck the end of a submerged dredge pipeline while pushing two spud barges to the Gulf of Mexico. The incident occurred on the Mississippi River in Pass […]
With close to 100 daily cargo flights operated to a destination network spanning more than 65 cities across six continents, Emirates SkyCargo is delivering essential supplies and commodities to people around the world. The air cargo carrier is currently operating 11 Boeing 777 freighter aircraft, each with a capacity to transport about 100 tonnes of […]
Astral Aviation has increased its intra-African network with cargo freighters during the pandemic. While there has been a reduction in capacity to, from, and within Africa, which has been caused by a stoppage of passenger flights and limited frequencies on freighter aircraft, Astral Aviation continues to operate cargo freighters from its Nairobi hub to 13 destinations […]
Best known as a leading passenger airport serving Germany’s most populated federal state North Rhine-Westphalia, Düsseldorf has become transformed into a vital distribution point, during the COVID 19 pandemic, for medical equipment and other life-saving goods, mostly from China. Gerton Hulsman, managing director of cargo operations, reports that the handling teams are working hard to […]
Global commercial aviation charter company Albion Aviation Group is reporting that it is seeing a considerable uptake in its professional cargo broker training courses from the current global pandemic crisis and surge in charter demand. “We have completed a number webinar courses for a whole of host of companies, looking to manage their own cargo […]
Operators can continue to use pilots and other crew members who have unable to comply with certain training, recent experience, testing, and checking requirements due to the COVID-19 outbreak in support of essential operations. Additionally, this Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) provides regulatory relief to certain persons and pilot schools unable to meet duration and […]
Emirates SkyCargo has expanded its weekly scheduled cargo flight operations to cover 75 destinations across six continents. Through its wider reach, Emirates SkyCargo is able to transport essential commodities and other urgently needed cargo more rapidly across the world, allowing exporters and importers across markets to benefit from direct access to widebody cargo capacity. Some […]
Callan Marine is serving as the prime contractor to the Texas Department of Transportation for a maintenance dredging project located at the Bolivar Ferry Terminal, in Galveston, Texas. Work began in May and is estimated to be complete in late July 2020. The project consists of the removal of 600,000 cubic yards of material and […]
Network Airline Management and TAAG Angola Airlines are pleased to announce the renewal of their long-term freighter aircraft contract by an additional 12 months, sealing an ongoing partnership for the foreseeable future. Operating a regular weekly scheduled service from Liege, Belgium, to the capital of Angola, Luanda, Network Airline Management provides a Boeing 747-400F aircraft […]
Qatar Airways Cargo transported 56 SkyCell containers with vaccines from one of the largest vaccine manufacturers worldwide on its scheduled freighter and belly-hold cargo flights for its customer, CEVA Logistics. The 54-tonne shipment consisting of pneumococcal and varicella vaccines were flown from Brussels to Mumbai via the carrier’s hub in Doha on two separate flights. […]