BOURBON offshore tug sank in the Atlantic. UPDATES

Offshore AHT tug BOURBON RHODE issued distress signal in the morning Sep 26 in Atlantic, in vicinity 15 35N 040 10W, some 970 nm due W of Cape Verde. The ship while en route from Las Palmas Canary islands, to Georgetown Guyana, was caught in cyclone, suffering massive water ingress in ship’s compartments, 14 crew readying for evacuation. MRCC Antilles-Guyana directed the only ship in the area around distressed tug, bulk carrier SSI EXCELLENT (IMO 9693757), to assist.
SSI EXCELLENT is to reach tug in the morning Sep 27 local time, around 1200 UTC. Latest BOURBON RHODE available AIS signal dated 1222 UTC Sep 26, tug moving at reduced speed in NW direction, probably trying to keep wind/sea on bow.

Sep 27 1420 UTC UPDATE: SSI EXCELLENT has obviously, arrived at the scene, moving at slow speed. No information yet what’s going on, but BOURBON RHODE AIS is still off, last signal received 25 hours ago.

Sep 28 UPDATE: Now news as of 0630 UTC whatsoever, except BOURBON press-release which is no news, either. Bulk carrier SSI EXCELLENT is circling around, tug’s AIS is off during 42 hours, looks like tug sank, and bulk carrier is in SAR mode. But it’s not confirmed yet, and hopefully, I’m mistaken, bulk carrier trying to assist disabled tug. Weather seems to be rough.

Sep 28 1520 UTC:  BOURBON offshore tug reportedly sank, 3 rescued, 11 probably missing or dead
According to Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, AHL tug BOURBON RHODE understood sank, 3 crew including 2 Ukrainians rescued, fate of 11 unknown. Bulk carrier SSI EXCELLENCE according to track, left SAR area. MFA statement refers to owner information. Information not yet verified, and not complete, let’s hope for the best.

1720 UTC Sep 28 UPDATE: BOURBON RHODE confirmed sank. SAR still going on, at least 2 more ships joined operation, coordinated by MRCC: General cargo ship ERIK (IMO 9435105) and supertanker, VLCC MARAN TRITON (IMO 9237632). There is still hope.
3 rescued seamen were picked up from life raft, they said tug sank on Sep 26.

Sep 29 UPDATE 0430 UTC: SAR continues, several ships are searching for survivors in SAR area, with deployment of patrol planes.

Sep 30 latest: SAR still on, tug had problems before caught in storm
As of 0400 UTC Sep 30, SAR was going on with at least 4 cargo ships ploughing through SAR area, and planes conducting air surveillance. One lifeless floating body was spotted by plane, but later lost, so body wasn’t recovered. SSI EXCELLENCE left SAR and resumed voyage, no information yet on 3 seamen rescued by bulk carrier, but they’re safe, that’s what matters.
According to insiders’ information, BOURBON RHODE was drydocked recently, prior to her last voyage to South America, where she was to be working under charter. Something was done wrong or went wrong during repairs, the tug encountered trouble or troubles before she was caught in cyclone. Master of tug is Croatian, Second Officer is Filipino, bosun is from South Africa, fitter is Russian, the rest are Ukrainians.

Oct 1 latest: 2 bodies found, recovered, SAR still on
Oct 1 0600 UTC UPDATE: On Sep 30 2 bodies were recovered by MT NAVIG8 GUARD (IMO 9833670), later transferred to French Navy ship, understood frigate VENTOSE. Frigate and her helicopter said to reach SAR area by morning Oct 1. Ships still engaged in SAR can be seen on AIS screenshot. Also deployed French Air Force plane and USCG Hercules plane.

Oct 2 latest: 4 bodies found, recovered, SAR continues
Oct 2 1300 UTC UPDATE: SAR continues, some cargo ships are leaving SAR being themselves in danger (one for example, is having engine problem, running out of fuel and not big enough to hold on effective SAR in deteriorating weather conditions). 4 dead seamen were found, bodies recovered. Reportedly 3 survivors and 4 bodies were all taken on board of frigate VENTOSE. French Air Force Falcon 50 jet and USCG Hercules plane are deployed, plus VENTOSE helicopter. Offshore tug ALP STRIKER joined SAR – indispensable asset if it comes to recovering people in stormy seas, quite a task for regular commercial freighters, but offshore tugs are designed for it. It was once mentioned, that survivors witnessed 7 crew going into life raft. There’s still hope, SAR must continue.
Rumors point at azimuth thrusters failure as the cause of the disaster. BOURBON RHODE didn’t have conventional propulsion and steering propeller and rudder, two azimuth thrusters were both for propulsion and steering purposes. If they fail in stormy ocean – not sea, but in the middle of the ocean – a small tug is doomed, having non or very small chance of survival.

Oct 4 latest: SAR continues
Oct 4 0600 UTC UPDATE: No news from SAR site, except that SAR continues, with deployment of Navies, CG and passing cargo ships, which interrupted their voyages to take part in SAR. There’s a constant rotation of cargo ships on site, because regular cargo ship can assist only so far, they have to leave SAR for a number of reasons.
There are growing unrest and anger among all those related to crew and BOURBON in general, especially among relatives of the crew. I’ve been contacted by relatives, they’re, to put it bluntly, infuriated, by they way they’re treated, like they’re some kind of nuisance. They’re rejected information and updates, or their requests are simply overlooked and not answered. Shortly after 3 crew were rescued, South African new outlet contacted me on behalf of bosun’s wife, desperately trying to get an answer to a very simple question – was her husband among those rescued?
There’s growing body of data from all sides – from relatives, from crews working in BOURBON, from those who worked in BOURBON earlier, all coinciding and cross-confirming, all leading to worrisome conclusions – dry dock repairs weren’t complete and of sufficient quality; much more works should be done on propulsion/steering system to ensure safe transatlantic run; the ship wasn’t ready for transatlantic run and shouldn’t be allowed to leave port of departure/repairs (Las Palmas), by relevant authorities. Probably, tug couldn’t avoid disaster by moving away from cyclone track, either, because she didn’t have enough fuel for any extra maneuvering, especially long-distance one.

BOURBON RHODE Oct 4 latest: Tragic last messages
Oct 4 1430 UTC UPDATE: Croatian colleague of Croatian Master of BOURBON RHODE, Dino Miskovic, couldn’t remain silent, he sent to Croatian Maritime outlet MORSKI.HR last messages sent to tug, and received from tug, until the moment communication was lost.

BOURBON RHODE rescue operation suspended – why?!
Oct 5 1230 UTC UPDATE: I’ve been informed on BOURBON RHODE SAR suspension effective morning Oct 5, in the morning, but found information doubtful, and decided to wait for confirmation or hopefully, denunciation. But no denunciation came, on the contrary, suspension was confirmed. CROSS or MRCC of Martinique suspended active full-scale SAR, under a very weak pretext of “survival time of man in water, even in immersion suit, being over”. Can we assume, beyond reasonable doubt, that all 7 missing crew went into water, suits or no suits, and no one made it to life raft? No, we can’t. We can’t be sure of it, we don’t know. There’s a chance, a probability, not confirmed or disproved, that 7 missing crew managed to go into life raft. If that’s the case, they still have a very good chance of survival, they still can be alive, waiting for rescue. Life raft isn’t immersion suit, survivors can last in it for weeks, providing they maintain order and strict rationing of water and food.
Frankly, I can’t recall SAR being called off in just 8 days after the disaster, with people still missing, while there’s even a small chance, that they may be in a life raft. Especially considering the fact, that disaster took place in the middle in the ocean, not in some comparatively small, restricted area, like say, Baltic or Caribbean sea. The decision to suspend SAR is absolutely unjustified and unreasonable. SAR is switched to so-called “passive” mode, advising all ships passing the area to be on lookout – i.e. SAR is as good, as called off. Martinique is an overseas territory of France, it’s a France, for that matter. BOURBON is a French company. What happened? Did France change SAR guidelines and dumped good practice? France closes down SAR in record short time, while there are hope and chance of people still being alive, why?

BOURBON RHODE search resumed, at a lesser scale
BOURBON RHODE Oct 9 UPDATE: SAR has been resumed, though at a much less scale. SAR was resumed after a surge of protests in Croatia and Ukraine, sparked by frustrated relatives and friends of missing crew, and after Croatian and Ukrainian Governments made official calls to French Government, asking it to re-think SAR suspension, and resumed it as soon as possible. Relatives already established a Fund with the main purpose of financing private jet or jets, to launch air surveillance in the area. Their hopes were strengthened by 3 rescued sailors testimonies, insistent on seeing 7 missing crew board life raft, and by Oct 7 report from offshore tug ALP STRIKER (IMO 9737230), saying that ship’s crew spotted some signals resembling distress flares. As of 0400 UTC Oct 9, 4 ships were engaged in SAR, including ALP STRIKER, plus air surveillance provided by the US Hercules C-130 plane.
But SAR isn’t as large-scale as it was, and as it should be. No French frigate with helicopter and jet, no ships directed to the area for prolonged search, to be replaced by other ships – those 3 ships presently engaged in search were deployed only after ALP STRIKER spotted flares, and may soon leave the area.
The EU, France including, spare no funds and efforts in trafficking illegal migrants, but can’t find enough resources – well, any resources – to save honest, hard-working men. What a shame!

BOURBON RHODE Oct 10 UPDATE: Search continuing with several ships engaged in SAR, see screenshot below. Oct 9 satellite image showed an object which may be life raft, and of course, it stoked SAR and hopes of all concerned. It is said, that French Government and BOURBON Company are under constant pressure to continue SAR, and they in their turn, make everything possible to go on with search. On the other hand, most indispensable asset for a deep-ocean SAR, is available but not deployed. I mean French Navy ships, namely frigates, with helicopters on board. There’s at least one idling at Capo Verde, and we don’t know, where is another one, VENTOSE, the one which participated in first stage of SAR, until it was suspended. Planes deployment is restricted by sheer distance, while frigate can stay in SAR area for days and weeks, and helicopter is the best search instrument there is.

BOURBON RHODE Oct 12 SAR Update: comparing with STELLAR DAISY disaster
Oct 12 UPDATE: According to French news agency QUEST FRANCE, Martinique Prefect, one FRANCK ROBINE, on Oct 11 called SAR off, because he, Franck Robine, doesn’t believe there’s any chance of finding survivors or dead bodies, or anything at all. Judging from his photo in full uniform, he’s something of a super admiral or general, or just super, so he surely, should know better than we do. He already knew it all on Oct 4, when SAR was suspended first time – and who knows the results of search if SAR wasn’t called off, if Navy frigate with helicopter, and surveillance planes, were present.
Now France is calling SAR off second time, and that decision seems to be final.
Let’s recall VLOC STELLAR DAISY disaster, which occurred deep in South Atlantic on Mar 31 2017, claiming 22 crew. Only 2 crew were rescued. Bulk carrier was Korean with partially, Korean crew. Relatives and friends insisted on continuing SAR months after ship sank.
Uruguayan Navy ship returned to port after a 17-day search during which floating debris from the wreckage was found.
Jun 6 2017: South Korean ore carrier Polaris Shipping has agreed to send a rescue craft to the site where Stellar Daisy is believed to have gone down, after family members of some of the missing crew pleased for the now toned-down search-and-rescue efforts to be intensified. The rescue ship will depart Congo on 6 June and is scheduled to arrive at the scene on 14 June to commence a 22-day search until 5 July.
Jan 2018: South Korean families of the missing crew members of the ill-fated bulker Stellar Daisy, which sank off Uruguay in March 2017, are calling on the authorities to continue the search and rescue operation for the missing seafarers.
Prefect Franck Robine may be unaware of simple, basic human feelings when it comes to tragedies with missing people. Everything possible must be done in order to get guaranteed results, negative or positive. Even when SAR looks hopeless and even meaningless, it should go on until relatives understand and accept the bitter truth, but at least they won’t suffer later on, maybe for the rest of their lives, from gnawing doubts and suspicions, that something was missing, chances lost, not all was done. I don’t know if French admirals or politicians, or those in power including one monsieur Macron (who was personally addressed by relatives, and by Croatian and Ukrainian Governments), understand it. France ran out of money and its’ Navy budget can’t afford large-scale oceanic SAR operation, with deployment of ships with helicopters, and planes? Croatia and Ukraine already said they’re ready to assist impoverished France and share financial burden. No answer.
It’s not just sad, it’s frustrating and infuriating. Who’re the elites to treat common people in tragedy in such manner, are they humans, or are they hostile aliens?

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Offshore AHT tug BOURBON RHODE, IMO 9356359, GT 1375, built 2006, flag Luxembourg, manager Bourbon Offshore.



My name is Mikhail Voytenko, I’m Russian, professional merchant marine navigator, by education and former experience. I own and run Maritime Bulletin website for more than 10 years. I've been involved in solving a number of piracy hijack cases, including the hijack of ro-ro FAINA, loaded with tanks. It was me who made public, and unravel, freighter ARCTIC SEA mystery. I've been also closely involved in a number of maritime disaster, one of them being MSC FLAMINIA major fire.