Military

Coast Guard Coxswain Emphasizes Having Clear Head During Tugboat Response

January 26, 2023Noelle Wiehe
The damaged tug Mark E. Kuebler grounded near Corpus Christi, Texas, on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. A large gash is visible just above the waterline. Photos courtesy of Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Merrit Carter. Composite by Kenna Lee/Coffee or Die Magazine.

The damaged tug Mark E. Kuebler grounded near Corpus Christi, Texas, on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. A large gash is visible just above the waterline. Photos courtesy of Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Merrit Carter. Composite by Kenna Lee/Coffee or Die Magazine.

One of the world’s most innovative tugboats remains beached on a Texas sandbar, after apparently getting sucked under a massive oil tanker and mauled by its propeller.

The tiny 98-foot tug Mark E. Kuebler, a Z-Tech 30-80 vessel, collided with the Saudi Arabian-flagged crude tanker Nisalah around 4 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 22, in the Corpus Christi ship channel, according to the US Coast Guard.

Within two minutes, more than 70,000 gallons of water had sluiced through the gash in the tug’s hull, and it ran aground in Turtle Cove, near the South Texas Gateway refinery.

Watchstanders scrambled a Coast Guard Station Port Aransas 45-foot response boat-medium crew to steam to the crippled tug and the four mariners on board it. Officials feared the parade of tankers through the channel could throw their wakes onto the vessel, pushing it back to sea and sinking it.

“The biggest priority is just making sure before we launch, we have all of the information,” Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Merrit Carter, the Coast Guard rescue vessel’s coxswain, told Coffee or Die Magazine. “When a SAR alarm goes off, your heart gets racing thinking, ‘What’s it going to be?’ You want to help people, right? But the biggest thing is, the whole time, I’m just thinking about a plan.”

Mark E. Kuebler tugboat

The damaged tug Mark E. Kuebler grounded near Corpus Christi, Texas, on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. Photos courtesy of Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Merrit Carter. 

Carter, 25, said it looked like the Mark E. Kuebler had been pulled underneath the oil tanker’s afterdeck and toward its massive screw, which then chewed apart the smaller vessel’s hull.

Luckily, the tug’s four mariners survived the collision, and they intentionally grounded to avoid sinking. The ripped hull was mostly above the waterline, but the wake from any other vessel threatened to submerge it, and the tug’s crew couldn’t dewater the hold. 

Carter’s crew had brought a portable P6 pump to the rescue, but the tug’s skipper told him “even if we had your three P6 pumps, plus ours, there’s no way we could ever keep up with this water.”

A pair of expert damage control Coasties — Machinery Technician 2nd Class Michael Milton and Machinery Technician 3rd Class Andreas Morales — boarded the tug, and they agreed with the skipper’s assessment.

Mark E. Kuebler tugboat

The tiny 98-foot tug Mark E. Kuebler, a Z-Tech 30-80 vessel, ran aground Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023,  in Turtle Cove in Corpus Christi, Texas. Photos courtesy of Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Merrit Carter.

So their plan changed, and they focused on preventing other vessels from getting too near the tug while its sister tug, Mercury, sailed to Turtle Cove to take aboard the stranded mariners. 

“At the end of the day, we prioritize life over a boat any day,” Carter said.

On Wednesday, Public Affairs Specialist 3rd Class Alejandro Rivera told Coffee or Die the tug is still stuck in Turtle Cove. The towing operator needs to submit a transit plan to remove the vessel, and it then must be approved by the Coast Guard’s Captain of the Port.

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Noelle Wiehe
Noelle Wiehe

Noelle is an award-winning journalist from Cincinnati, Ohio, who came to Coffee or Die Magazine following a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command in college. She worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist attached to the 3rd Infantry Division. Have a story or tip about the Marine Corps, Coast Guard, or Navy that readers need to know? Email: [email protected]

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