One year after Hurricane Isaac scattered more than a hundred ships and vessels in the Lower Mississippi River, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) honored two New Orleans-Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots (NOBRA) for their fearless actions in braving gale force winds and a storm surge to rescue several crippled vessels and their crews and prevent further casualties from the Category One storm, announced Captain Michael E. Rooney, NOBRA president.
The USCG award ceremony honoring the NOBRA pilots was conducted today at the Maritime Pilots Institute (MPI) in Covington, La.
"The Commandant of the United States Coast Guard," said USCG Commander P.W. Gautier, Captain of the Port, "takes great pleasure in presenting the Coast Guard Certificate of Merit to New Orleans-Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association river pilots Captain Derek Solar and Captain Maurice ‘Toby’ Wattigney for their roles in the response and recovery efforts during Hurricane Isaac, August 27-29, 2012."
According to the USCG, Isaac was a surprisingly strong category-one hurricane whose prolonged movement significantly damaged the port community. The storm's especially powerful surge and gale force winds resulted in more than a hundred marine casualties and pollution incidents, causing property damage in excess of $5 billion as well as the shutting down of the Lower Mississippi River and its connecting waterways and tributaries. Some 120 deep draft vessels remained in the port when the storm struck with about a third of them experiencing significant casualties within the initial 24 hours of the storm. The hurricane heavily impacted vessels at anchorage, leaving some aground and others entangled in their moorings.
"Captains Solar and Wattigney were among very few pilots who were able to reach the Mississippi River through the flooding and blocked highways to address these vessel casualties and they did so without hesitation," said Captain Gautier.
With gale force winds pounding in early morning darkness, Captain Solar drove to Grandview Anchorage to board a launch for the MV Overseas Antigmar, a 46,000-ton oil/chemical tanker measuring 600 ft. long and 100 ft. wide. The ship's Master initially dragged anchor and then weighed anchor to avoid perilously drifting and colliding with the LaPlace water intake – the workhorse water plant and water line that supports St. John The Baptist Parish. Captain Solar arrived on the scene, took control of the vessel and brought it safely to anchorage – an operation that lasted well into the morning. As he departed the ship, Captain Solar noticed another vessel had dragged anchor and was in the middle of the navigational channel. Knowing that reopening of the Mississippi River vessel traffic was a top USCG priority, Captain Solar boarded the vessel and cleared the channel.
After reaching the Grandview Anchorage, Captain Wattigney boarded a launch for the grounded MV Medi Sentosa, an 84,000-ton bulk carrier measuring 750 ft. long and 95 ft wide. Captain Wattigney headed to the MV Medi Sentosa before the storm surge reversed and the high water receded. He immediately noticed the 13,000-ton MV Clipper Daisey, an oil/chemical tanker measuring 406 ft. long and 65 ft. wide, had spun on its moorings and was aground, blocking the MV Medi Sentosa. Shuttling between the vessels, Captain Wattigney managed to not only re-float them but also safely return both to anchorage, thus achieving the USGC priority of clearing the navigational channel.
"The brave and heroic actions of Captains Solar and Wattigney exemplify our mission at NOBRA to protect the public welfare and environment of the State of Louisiana," said Captain Rooney. "We are extremely proud of these two outstanding master mariners and their service as NOBRA Pilots."