A 443 foot cargo tanker, the Sichem Defiance, suffered an internal rupture yesterday morning in Gravesend Bay. The rupture occurred while the vessel was being loaded with 55,000 barrels of ethanol. Rescue boats from the NYPD, FDNY and the Coast Guard rushed to the scene, where they found the ship lilting at about 6 degrees. All other ships were evacuated from Gravesend Bay, and the rescue boats cordoned off a thousand-foot area around the ship, in the event an external rupture occurred. As of now, no pollutants have escaped from the ship’s external hull and all 18 seafarers on boards were uninjured. Attempts to right the Defiance to its correct vertical position were suspended last night until daylight.
According to the Staten Island Advance, the Coast Guard wants to know exactly why the tanker ruptured, but it appears that it was being overfilled with more cargo than it could safely handle at the time of the deck collapse.
As we reported last month, transporting volatile materials by ship is a highly risky business. An armed fight with pirates, or an internal rupture, can turn a fuel-laden ship into a fireball in a matter of seconds. In New York’s own waterways, the PS General Slocum tragedy [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PS_General_Slocum] in 1904 was the city’s biggest disaster by the number dead (1,021 people of the 1,342 passengers died) until 9/11.
Shipping to New York City is still big business, even though most piers have closed in Manhattan and few remain in Brooklyn. The bulk of shipping to our area is now handled by the Ports of Elizabeth and Newark in Jersey, but there is still substantial cargo shipping in Staten Island, where the Defiance ruptured near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.