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"Overlooking Runway 25 - Right, at Los Angeles International Airport"  


"Bumper Cars"

Big Lift - Big Heart

M/V Tracer To The Rescue

of our

M/V Modern Drive Feature

Page 1 - USCGC Sherman Is The Lone Ranger

Page 2 - Auto-Matic Bargins -- the destroyed cargo

Page 3 - M/V Tracer To The Rescue - below

The 2001 Countryman & McDaniel

Cargo Nightmare Prize Winner

3rd of 32001 Award Pages

Port Elizebeth, South Africa

May 26 2001

Countryman & McDaniel

 The Air & Ocean Logistics- Customs Broker Attorneys

"Overlooking Runway 25 - Right, at Los Angeles International Airport"

...."Bumper Cars".

"Dramatic Tale of The Sea"


"M/V Tracer To The Rescue"


Port Elizebeth, South Africa

May 26 2001


M/V Tracer To The Rescue

Professional Mariners At Work

As told to The Cargo Letter by her master

Captain Mark Baller

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The Report of Captain Baller:
M/V Tracer is a specialist heavy lift cargo vessel built in China in 1999, sailing under the Netherlands Antilles flag. She is owned by Pine Maritime of Monaco and technically managed by Graig Ship Management. Tracer is of 6,714 GRT and 2,897 NRT with an overall length of 100.70 m & a breadth of 20.60 m. She has a deadweight of 8,734 mt at a summer draught of 8.00 m. Tracer is powered by a Wartsila medium speed diesel engine which can be operated from the bridge, and is capable of speeds up to 17-18 knots. However, our normal service speed was 14-15 knots. She has a single controllable pitch propeller and is equipped with a bow thruster. She has one hold served by two cranes each with a safe working load of 275 mt.
The sea passage material to our incident with what was later to be identified to us as M/V Modern Drive began at Abu Dhabi, UAE, where M/V Tracer loaded project cargo and motor vehicles. Supply boats and oil rig modules were loaded on deck. Truck cranes, lorries, forklifts and module cranes were loaded in the holds. Tracer sailed from Abu Dhabi on 24 May 2001 bound for Cape Town, South Africa, for bunkers.

The passage planning for the voyage to Cape Town was carried out by the Tracer's second officer who then discussed the plan with myself and the other deck officers. The courses laid-off on the chart followed the central axis of the strong Agulhas current. Off the south-east coast of South Africa, the current tracks approximately in a south-westerly direction along the 100 fathom line, about 10-15 miles from the shore. It is my usual practice to try to keep the vessel in the strongest part of the Agulhas current, which makes for the fastest and, therefore, the most economical track. The shipís course is adjusted on a day-to-day basis in order to keep the ship in the main axis of the current, which can attain speeds of up to 5 knots.

Entering The Agulhas Current

During the voyage from Abu Dhabi to Cape Town, the Tracer did not receive routing advice from one of the main weather routing organisations like Ocean Routes. The ship is equipped with a weather facsimile, Navtex and a satellite communications system that provide regular weather forecasts together with updates on the position of the central axis of the Agulhas Current. I am aware of the "abnormal wave" wave phenomenon as described in the various publications held on board. Very large waves have been known to occur off the south-eastern coasts of South Africa when the strong Agulhas Current moves against heavy seas and swells moving in a north-easterly direction. This effect is well documented in the Admiralty Pilot Book for the area and in the Mariners Handbook.

It is my usual practice to track seaward, rather than to shoreward, of the 100 fathom line if the prevailing conditions require me to deviate from the main axis of the Agulhas Current. The seas tend to be smaller to seaward of the main axis of the current. The local South African authorities have also been known to complain by VHF radio if vessels, trying to avoid the inshore north-easterly counter current, pass less than 3 miles off the coast.

Force 9 Gales - The Weather Deteriorates

The voyage to Cape Town was uneventful until the morning of 26 May 2001. At 00:00, the second mate took over the watch from the third mate. The Tracer was transiting along the South African coast on a SW'ly course and making a speed of about 14-15 knots. The weather details recorded in the log book by the third mate show the wind was from the NNW at force 5, and the visibility was good. The vessel was moving easily in a moderate NNWíly sea and moderate SSW'ly swell. Both of the radars were operational.

By 05:00 local time, the weather had deteriorated and the Tracer was experiencing force 9 SW'ly gales and associated high seas. I went to the bridge at about this time, having detected a sudden change in the ship's motion. Tracer was pitching heavily in the heavy SW'ly head sea and swell and was shipping heavy seas over her foc'sle and main deck. There were few clouds and the visibility was still good. The weather information received on board had indicated that depressions would be sweeping across the area so I was not unduly surprised at the conditions we were now experiencing.

The chief officer came to the bridge just before 06:00 to relieve the second mate. I reduced the propeller pitch to 75% to prevent the ship from pounding in the heavy head seas. I also put the helmsman on the wheel and engaged hand steering. The weather continued to deteriorate so I reduced the pitch further, to 60%, at 07:00.

By 08:00, the SW'ly wind showed no signs of easing. The wave heights of the very short sea and long swell were both recorded in the logbook as 6.0 m. Tracer was steering a course of 232( (true and gyro), pitching heavily and shipping seas over her deck. I reduced the pitch to 50%. Between 04:00 and 08:00, the ship had made good a speed of about 11 knots, as a result of the strong following Agulhas Current.

A Lucky Turn

In periods of heavy weather, when the conditions prevent the crew from going forward to check/sound around, it is my general practice to turn the vessel about and put the seas astern. Shortly after 08:00, I made an announcement over the P.A. system alerting the shipís company to the fact that the ship would shortly be turning around. I reduced the propeller pitch to about 15%, the minimum at which we could still maintain steering. Observing the oncoming wave trains, I waited until I noticed a calmer patch of sea, about 3 shipís lengths ahead, where the waves had a height of about 1-2 m, i.e. they had effectively cancelled each other out. With the calm patch about one shipís length away, I ordered full ahead on the engine and the wheel hard-to-port. As the turn commenced, I made a further announcement over the P.A. Tracer completed the turn to port without any problem over a period of about 3-4 minutes.

I steadied the vessel on a heading of about 050' (true) and reduced the engine speed to half ahead (about 50% pitch), or maybe a little less, so that the vessel was comfortable in the following seas. At 08:20, the ship's position by GPS was 33( 22.5' S, 027( 53.0' E, about 20 miles south of East London and about 3-4 miles seaward of the 100 fathom line. The crew conducted a check of the main deck and the holds, paying close attention to the cargo lashings, and the storerooms. No problems were found.

At 09:10, Tracer was brought back to her original heading of 232' (true). The turn to port was completed in about 3 minutes. The weather conditions had not improved. Tracer continued to pitch heavily in the long heavy swell at a reduced speed. Rolling was also experienced.

At about 10:30 (could be later), I was standing on the bridge wing with the chief mate. We were both looking astern at the silhouette of a large car carrier, which we had earlier overtaken on our starboard side at a distance of more than 2 miles. I cannot recall exactly when we had passed her. At that time, I had not paid any particular attention to the car carrier and cannot say whether she was in difficulty.

Large Car Carrier "Moving Violently All Over The Place"
The car carrier was perhaps about 7 miles astern of us, maybe a little less. Although I could only see the car carrier in silhouette, she appeared to be moving violently all over the place in a "cork-screwing" motion. She seemed to be pitching very heavily at times, and I would estimate she was rolling to about 30'. I do not recall her precise heading nor can I say whether she was attempting to turn about. However, I do recall that her bow was generally heading in a SW'ly direction.

At approximately 11:00 (could be earlier or later), I called the car carrier by VHF radio. I made a number of calls and finally received a reply from her on the third attempt. I asked if they were in trouble and requested assistance. The voice on the VHF, who didnít identify himself, replied that assistance was not required.

Our 12:00 GPS position was 33' 31' S, 027 40' E. The SWíly wind was now gusting to severe gale force 10 at times, creating 8 m sea and swell waves. However, I was not too concerned with the situation as the Tracer was riding the heavy seas well. The sky was partly cloudy and the visibility was still good. I left the bridge shortly after noon to go to lunch. The chief mate, who was an experienced officer, remained on watch.

Distress Call -- Car Carrier Changes Mind of It's Fate

While I was in the officers' saloon, I received a phone call from the chief mate who advised me that the DSC distress alarm had sounded on channel 70. I told him to acknowledge the alarm. Arriving back on the bridge, I was informed that the DSC alarm had sounded at 12:19 (09:19 UTC) and was from a vessel with MMSI 35177100. I do not recall the alarm category, but the latitude and longitude given for the vessel in distress, namely 33' 24'S 027 38'E, matched that of the car carrier which we had passed and spoken to earlier the same morning. The chief mate said that East London Radio had acknowledged the call at 12:20 although I do not remember whether he said the acknowledgement was made by VHF channel 16 or by DSC.

The distress call was repeated at 12:24. I called the car carrier on VHF channel 16. The voice that replied explained that their ship was "heeling", that the heel was "increasing" and that they "needed help". The expressions "rescue us' and "come quickly" were among those heard.

M/V Tracer To The Rescue

I informed the car carrier that we were about one hours' steaming away and would proceed immediately towards her. I turned Tracer about accordingly. At 12:35, a Mayday Relay was broadcast by East London Radio. The car carrier gave her name to East London Radio but there was some confusion and East London Radio was unable to ascertain her correct name.

USCGC Sherman Joins The Effort

I called East London Radio by VHF channel 16 and advised that Tracer was on her way to render assistance to the car carrier and would be on scene in about one hoursí time. Shortly afterwards, at about 12:38, a United States Coast Guard (USCG) cutter, Sherman, called East London Radio by VHF and advised that their position was to the north-east of the car carrier and that they too were en route. Sherman said she would reach the casualty in about two hours' time. The VHF communications between Sherman and the coast radio station were broken, so I decided to wait until I could hear the Shermanís transmissions a little more clearly before attempting to contact her.

Conditions For Unidentified Car Carrier Dire

As Tracer proceeded towards the car carrier, which was lying beam-on to the wind and sea, i.e. with the wind and sea on her port side, I had a number of VHF conversations with the crew of the casualty in an attempt to reassure them that help was on the way. I enquired as to the number of persons on board and whether they were all wearing their life-jackets. I suggested that all hands should gather in a safe place such as the wheelhouse. I also asked whether it was their intention to "abandon ship" to which I received the reply "yes."

At one point, I heard the car carrier ask the coast radio station to send a helicopter. I heard Sherman advise East London Radio that, whilst they might be able to launch their helicopter, they would not be able to recover it in the present weather conditions. East London Radio explained to Sherman that they would try to locate a suitable landing position, but that it may be preferably if Sherman headed for Port Elizabeth where facilities for helicopters existed.

The car carrier called us up on the VHF as we approached to within one mile of her and said that they could see us. By 13:00, the wind had eased a little but the SW'ly swell was still very long and heavy. I knew from the weather forecasts received earlier that, as we moved along the coast, we were going to catch a depression and its associated SW'ly gales. The conditions we were now experiencing were as I had anticipated.

Unidentified Car Carrier Has Fire

Approximately 30 minutes before we reached the car carrier, I saw smoke coming from her aft starboard funnel. This continued for about 10 or 15 minutes and then I noticed only whiffs of smoke. I called her up on the VHF and asked what damage they had sustained. The crew of the car carrier explained that they had a fire in the machinery space, which was still going. I was further informed that they didnít know the extent of the damage because CO2 gas had been injected into the engine room. They advised that they would check the engine room in about half an hour. I suggested that this was very unwise. After a smothering gas has been injected into an engine room, good practice dictates that the space remains sealed for at least 24 hours. At some point, East London Radio advised the car carrier that they were endeavouring to mobilise tugs to assist her.

The car carrier had many conversations with Port Elizabeth Radio regarding their local agents in Durban whom they wanted to contact. I received an Inmarsat call from our Cape Town agent enquiring as to the present position. I was advised by our agents that East London Radio had arranged 2 tugs and also that Safmarine were mobilising one of their large salvage tugs, but that it would take at least one day for the tug to arrive on scene.

M/V Modern Drive Is Identified

As we approached the car carrier at about 13:20, I was finally able to make out the name on her stern. It read "Modern Drive".

M/V Tracer Takes On-Scene Command

She was lying on a N-NE'ly heading, rolling about 10' on either side and just "wallowing" without any apparent engine power. She had a heavy starboard list of 10-15'. I manoeuvred Tracer close to Modern Drive, passing to within about 30 m of her stern and then down her starboard side. I wanted to take a good look at Modern Drive's hull and her situation generally. Despite having been told by the crew of Modern Drive that their ship was without power, as we passed round her stern I could hear her generators. Her engine room alarms were also sounding and then being cancelled. I also noticed generator exhaust emanating from the smaller funnel uptake. I assumed that the smoke I had seen earlier had come from the same uptake.

As I manoeuvred Tracer down the starboard side of Modern Drive, I saw through my binoculars that most of the Modern Drive's crew appeared to have gathered in the wheelhouse and were wearing their lifejackets. We then passed down Modern Drive's port side looking for any possible hull damage. Nothing was found.

The high-sided car carrier was drifting in a NE'ly direction, approximately parallel with the coast, under the influence of the SW'ly wind. At that time, she was in no danger of running aground and I confirmed this to East London Radio.

I discussed with Modern Drive the best way for them to abandon ship. Although the wind and seas were from the south-west, there was smoother water on Modern Drive's port side. I suggested that they prepare the port lifeboat. At about 13:30, Modern Drive informed me that tugs were now on the way to assist and that they were now awaiting their ownersí instructions.

USCGC Sherman ("The Lone Ranger") Arrives

Tracer was still the "On-Scene Commander" (OSC) so we steamed back and forth in an east-west direction awaiting developments. At 14:24, USCGC Sherman arrived on-scene and stationed herself astern of Modern Drive, about half a cable away. She also steamed back and forth in a similar fashion to Tracer. The skipper of Sherman had difficulty trying to make contact with Modern Drive and asked me for information. He was particularly interested in the fire that had been reported to them and the condition of the cargo on board Modern Drive. I did hear a voice on the Modern Drive tell the Sherman that they did not want to enter the cargo spaces because they could "smell petrol".

At 15:30, East London Radio informed Modern Drive that a tug had set-off and was en route. Sherman asked East London Radio if Tracer could be dismissed. In view of the reported fire and the leaking petrol on board Modern Drive, East London Radio was reluctant to release us from the scene. They were also concerned about Modern Drive's list and the possibility that flooding may have occurred. Sherman said however that she was happy for Tracer to be released.

M/V Tracer Passes Command To USCGC Sherman

At 15:43, Tracer was released as "On-Scene Commander" from the distress scene by Port Elizabeth Radio and resumed her voyage from position 33' 22' S, 027' 43' E. By this time, the wind had increased to gale force again. During our attendance on-scene, the wind had reduced to about force 3 or 4.

At the time, I considered that, if Modern Drive had been at risk of running aground, we could have towed her to safety using a towline comprising of her anchor cables and mooring ropes. Modern Drive's anchors would first have to be "gas-axed" off. Tracer did not carry a towing wire and could not have towed Modern Drive using mooring ropes alone.

Captain Mark Baller -- Master, M/V Tracer

Captain Robert M. Baller was born on 30 April 1957, and first went to sea in 1974 as a Deck Cadet. He holds a British Masterís Foreign-Going Certificate of Competency, obtained in 1983. Obtained his Chief Officerís Certificate in 1980 and was promoted to Master in 1984. Between 1984 and 1992, he sailed as both Master and Chief Officer and also served as a Director of a Ship Management Company for about 3 years. Capt. Baller has sailed continuously as Master since 1992 with experience in bulk carriers, container ships, reefer vessels, passenger ships, ro-roís, ferries, general cargo ships and survey vessels. For the past 2 years, Capt. Baller has been employed as Master on vessels managed by Graig Ship Management of Cardiff, UK. He joined the Tracer, as Master, on 26 February 2001 in Antwerp.

It is For Such Men As These That We Use The Term "Captain" & "Ships' Company."

This Professional Crew Put Themselves At Risk & Stood Ready

This Crew Rode Out A Great Storm For M/V Modern Drive

Bravo Zulu To The Professional Sailors of M/V Tracer!

The Departure of M/V Tracer placed USCGC Sherman Back Into The Lions Mouth For The Attempt To Save M/V Modern Drive [see below].

Follow The Efforts of USCGC Sherman -- Below -- In Saving M/V Modern Drive. It was t be a wild ride!

"Bumper Cars".

"Dramatic Tale of The Sea"

USCGC Sherman

Is Now On Scene And Takes Charge

M/V Modern Drive Is In Grave Danger

 The 2001 Countryman & McDaniel

Cargo Nightmare Prize Winner

First of Two 2001 Award Features

>> Main Feature Page <<

M/V Tracer - vessel owners

M/V Tracer - vessel managers

Agulhas Current

Agulhas Current Project

Wave Enhancement In Agulhas Current

Page 1 - USCGC Sherman Is The Lone Ranger

Page 2 - Auto-Matic Bargins -- the destroyed cargo

Page 3 - M/V Tracer To The Rescue

Auto-Matic Bargins !

Visit Our M/V Modern Drive Emporium


"Slightly" Used Vehicles -- In The Wake of This Loss

This is Our "AFTERMATH" Page

 The 2001 Countryman & McDaniel

Cargo Nightmare Prize Winner

Page 1 - USCGC Sherman Is The Lone Ranger

Page 2 - Auto-Matic Bargins -- the destroyed cargo

Page 3 - M/V Tracer To The Rescue


Back To Main Page of M/V Modern Drive

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