Norfolk-based USS Kauffman saves stranded fishermen in heavy seas

Posted at 7:58 PM, Feb 27, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-27 19:58:51-05

Norfolk, Va. – The Norfolk-based guided-missile frigate USS Kauffman rescued six stranded fishermen set adrift in the western Caribbean Sea when their ship experienced engine trouble on Feb. 21.

The all-Colombian crew was stranded aboard their fishing vessel DELTA 1 when their diesel engine suffered a catastrophic failure 175 miles northwest of Cartagena, Colombia. Their safety was at risk as weather conditions were rapidly declining; sea heights were building to a forecasted 12-foot height which placed the wayward vessel at risk.

“We had to act quickly and decisively when we arrived on station and evaluated the condition of DELTA 1, her crew and the weather,” said Cmdr. Michael Concannon, commanding officer of USS Kauffman. “Safety of life at sea is of the upmost concern to all mariners. Our immediate assistance was necessary for the vessel and sailors to be taken out of harm’s way.”

Kauffman sent a rescue and assistance team comprised of several engineers, including Chief Engineman Dany Lamadieu, to assess the mechanical condition of the damaged vessel. While the vessel’s hull was deemed seaworthy, the engine damage was irreparable without replacement parts that were unavailable.

“Their O-rings were completely melted to the point that it looked as if someone had smeared a layer of peanut butter on their gears,” said Lamadieu.

Lamadieu assessed that the ship’s generator was still functioning enough to power the lights on board.

However, the ship’s diesel engine would require extensive dock side repairs and DELTA 1 would need to be towed into port.

The Deck Division professionally and successfully rigged Kauffman and the fishing vessel for open-ocean tow, an infrequently practiced task. With the diminished state of the stranded vessel and the declining weather conditions, the maneuver proved to be very challenging.

“Normally, you’d have instructions and policies to refer to in order to get the job done,” said Senior Chief Boatswain’s Mate Scott Nordan. “Instead of all the normal diagrams and plans we would use, we had to come up with other ideas.”

Nordan said that in most towing operations, the towing vessel passes the towing rig to the stranded vessel to use their own hawser to bring the rig to them. However, since the Colombian ship barely had power to keep its lights on, the entire operation had to be done in reverse.

“For boatswain’s mates, this was right in our wheel house, as we say,” said Nordan. “It was good training for our guys and they performed remarkably.”

On Feb. 22nd, at the conclusion of the 130-mile tow, all six Colombian fishermen and their vessel were turned over to the Panamanian Coast Guard. This transfer of the towed vessel and mariners was new to Kauffman’s crew, but they were more than up for it. The transfer was made even more difficult because it was executed approximately three miles from the entrance to the Panama Canal in Colon, Panama, in seas up to eight feet. Though delivering the crew and ship was a complicated and dangerous undertaking for Kauffman Sailors, leaving the fishermen stranded was not an option.

“We knew they were adrift in rough seas that were only getting worse and I think that it’s in our core as Americans and the U.S. Navy to do what we can to help someone in distress,” said Lt. Sarah Camarena, operations officer on board Kauffman.

Kauffman is currently underway in support of Operation Martillo, a joint operation with the U.S. Coast Guard and partner nations within the U.S. 4th Fleet area of responsibility.