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Search and Rescue Operations Continue After Vessel Collision Off Mississippi Gulf Coast

The United States Coast Guard has established a 25-square mile safety zone in the Gulfport Ship Channel in support of the agency’s ongoing search and rescue operations after a vessel collision during the early evening hours of May 18.

According to Coast Guard and media reports, the 660-foot dry container ship Eunus London and the 163-foot fishing vessel Sandy Point collided Wednesday night approximately 10 miles offshore from Gulfport, Mississippi, between Cat Island and Ship Island.  The F/V Sandy Point, a operated by Omega Protein, Inc., sank in 25 feet of water with 16 persons on board.  Thirteen of the fishing vessel’s crew were rescued, some with minor injuries; at last report three people remain missing.  A pilot boat was able to recover 11 of the F/V Sandy Point‘s crew for transfer to the F/V Frosty Morn, while two others are reported to have been picked up by the crew of the Eurus London.

The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources indicates that the rescued crew members were taken to the Gulfport Coast Guard station for interviews about events leading to the accident.  They later were returned to the Omega Protein plant in the Gulfport region.

The Coast Guard is still in full search and rescue mode.  As always, the preservation of human life is our first priority.

– Capt. Donald J. Rose, commanding officer for Coast Guard Sector Mobile, Ala.

At least one media report indicates that the Liberian-flagged Eurus London, which was carrying bananas for Chiquita, “rammed” the F/V Sandy Point.  The true circumstances of the collision necessarily remain subject to formal investigation.*  After the accident the Eurus London was towed to the West Pier in Gulfport Harbor, its hull marred with scrape marks that presumably resulted from the overnight collision.

As of Thursday morning, Coast Guard Capt. Donald J. Rose reported that the Coast Guard remained in full search and rescue mode.  The agency is the lead entity for purposes of rescue efforts, with the assistance of Mississippi Department of Marine Resources and state law enforcement personnel.

A multi-agency dive team was expected to dive to at the site of the accident on Thursday afternoon.
There was speculation whether the three missing crew members of the F/V Sandy Point might be aboard the vessel, perhaps with access to an air pocket inside the hull.

Omega Protein, based in Houston, Texas, issued a press release acknowledging the loss of the F/V Sandy Point.  “We are assisting the U.S. Coast Guard and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources in the search for our remaining crew members,” said Joe von Rosenberg, Omega Protein’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “Our main concern at this time is for our missing 3 crew members and their families.”

The F/V Sandy Point was based out of Omega Protein’s Moss Point facility and reportedly fished for pogey.
The Coast Guard’s ongoing response effort has included surveillance aircraft and rescue helicopters, and a variety of surface vessels, including cutters, utility boats, and shallow water craft.
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