Sunday, July 20, 2014

More Award Presentations at Aston Gardens

On Tuesday July 15th during the monthly meeting of the Aston Gardens Veterans Club two additional Quilts of Valor were presented:

(1) to retired Platoon Sergeant Charles W.
and (2) to Alan H., a retired Air Force Pilot.
The CT Quilters QOV Group attended the May 2014 meeting (see earlier post) where we had presented numerous QOV quilts to members of the Veterans Club and to our own Linda Fentriss – QOVF Coordinator for Florida.  Alan and Charles were unable to attend at that time, so their awards were made during the July meeting.   In addition, a QOV was presented to US Army Colonel Woodrow W. (Retired),  who is a driver at Aston Gardens.  The veterans group at Aston Gardens has thanked us for the recognition of their service and expressed their honor in receiving these quilts.  We have received various monetary donations from them and thank them for their support of our work.

At the meeting I was intrigued by the program presented by Retired Captain William Whaley – United Stated Coast Guard.  The program concerned a major maritime disaster that occurred at 12:42 am on June 2, 1973 in the New York Harbor.  Captain Whaley at the time of the accident was a Commander stationed in Texas and is the current President of the Aston Gardens Veterans Club.  At the time of this maritime disaster he was a major incident investigator.  He was sent from his base in Texas to assist in the investigation.  Apparently when major maritime accidents happen local USCG investigators do not handle the incident.  Later in his career this will be the case when he is Head of Port for Tampa when the MS Summit Venture hit the Skyway Bridge in May 1980 and non-local investigators from the US Coast Guard were brought in.

The story of the 1973 Maritime Disaster is as follows:

During an early June morning in 1973 an outbound cargo ship the SS C. V. Sea Witch of American registry incurred a loss of steering ability.  The ship was speeding at 13+ knots out of the harbor when the incident occurred.  As steering capabilities were lost, the ship left the channel and collided with a Belgian registered tank ship the SS Esso Brussels, which lay at anchor.

The bow of the Sea Witch breached three of the cargo tanks filled with Nigerian crude oil.  For over an hour a massive fire laid siege to both ships, which were entangled.  Damage to both ships was massive and loss of life catastrophic.  On the Esso Brussels the death toll included 10 crew members and the Master.  The Master of the Sea Witch also died on board.

Before the collision the pilot of the Sea Witch alerted the Esso Brussels by whistle blasts and additionally tried full astern engine maneuverability and to drop anchor on the port side to stop the ship, all to no avail.

The oil from the breach of the Esso Brussels leached out to the surface, which then caught fire.  Those of you familiar with this area of New York will know of the Verrazanio-Narrows Bridge.  The two locked ships drifted under the bridge causing minor fire damage to the underside.

Some of the crew members of the Sea Witch jumped overboard and were rescued by local boats.  Others stayed on board moving from space to space as the smoke and flames followed them.  At approximately 1:45 am, thirty one (31) persons on board were rescued.  The vessels were separated by 6:30 am.  The Sea Witch listed and all efforts were made to keep it from capsizing.  Container fires on board continued for over two weeks.  After all fire burned out two more victims were found.

The investigation of this major collision revealed that certain container structures could not withstand the intense fire.  This was something the industry would study for future construction.

The loss of steering was a result of a small part of the steering mechanism that had loosened and fell out. The part was no longer than 3/16 of an inch.  This type of steering system on other ships was investigated as a result of this failure.  Speed was also considered to be an additional factor in the collision.

Many other recommendations and actions were a result of this incident. The current use of lights attached to life preservers is a result of this study.

This article was written to give the reader(s) of this Blog some insight into the careers some of our veterans have had in our Military.  This is just one story among thousands.  But it was a story connected to one of our QOV recipients here in the Tampa Bay area.

Thank you,
Pat N.

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