Coast Guard Calls Off Search for Missing Alabama Shipyard Worker

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

The Coast Guard and Mobile authorities have called off the search for a missing shipyard worker who was thrown into the water the same day the Carnival Triumph became loose from its moorings.

The maritime accident occurred on Wednesday in the port of Mobile, AL, where the Triumph has been docked since February, after a cruise ship fire disabled the vessel. Authorities reported strong winds on the day of the incident, which knocked two BAE Systems Support Solutions shipyard workers into the water. BAE Systems is the company that owns the private dock where the Triumph has been undergoing repairs. One of the workers was rescued, but the other victim, identified as John “Buster” Johnson, 64, was not found.

That same day, a guard shack on the pier was also blown into the water by the hurricane-force winds, but according to BAE spokesman John Measell, neither of the workers appeared to have been inside at the time.

Coast Guard rescue missions are called off within a few hours or days after crewmembers determine whether or not the victims will be recovered. When someone is lost at sea, Coast Guard crews will search the area where the accident occurred for the victim, but depending on the weather conditions and how much time has elapsed, the victim may not likely survive, and the Coast Guard must make an executive decision whether or not to continue the search.


“It is always extremely difficult to suspend a search when a person is still missing,” said Capt. Ed Cubanski, chief of response, 8th Coast Guard District.

In the meantime, authorities have been dealing with the Triumph, which was secured a few hours after becoming loose from its moorings. The vessel, which has already received extensive media attention after a fire in its engine room knocked out power and left over 4,200 people stranded in the Gulf of Mexico without power and in deplorable unsanitary shipboard conditions.

Cruise ship passengers endured five long days at sea as the 900-foot Triumph was towed to Mobile, without sufficient food or working toilets, and amidst sewage and waste that was overflowing from deck to deck. Carnival crewmembers and contractors had been working on repairs and cleaning up the mess that was left behind following the fire when it became loose. Around 800 people were seen from the ship as it drifted off from the Port of Mobile on Wednesday. According to Carnival, all workers were accounted for and no one was injured, but this wouldn’t be the first time a cruise line has withheld information regarding a maritime accident.

Although a preliminary investigation did not necessarily reveal a connection between the shipyard workers being tossed into the water and the Triumph breaking away from the dock, the case is still being reviewed. If there was any chance that the Triumph coming loose had anything to do with the accident, Carnival may be found at least partially responsible for the missing man.

Several factors may have come into play during the incident, which could lead Johnson’s loved ones to file a case with a maritime accident lawyer. The Triumph may have contributed to the workers falling into the water or may have fatally injured Johnson while he was already submerged. It seems odd that a cruise ship that has already undergone enough tragedy in the past two months would come loose from its moorings, despite being anchored. Cruise ships are built to withstand stronger winds than were experienced on Wednesday, so it seems as though there is something the line isn’t revealing to the public.

Additionally, if the winds were so strong, what was Carnival thinking when allowing 800 crewmembers and contractors to work onboard the vessel during such dangerous conditions? Carnival officials could not have been unaware of the strong winds, and should have known that a maritime accident could be suffered. Yet, the work was not suspended until the weather cleared up, which might be regarded as a form of negligence on the cruise line’s part.

After being secured later that day, the Carnival Triumph was moved from the private pier to the nearby Mobile Cruise Terminal after Coast Guard officials explained it was hindering the search for the missing shipyard worker. The vessel will eventually return to the private pier to finish repairs and is scheduled to return to commission by June, hopefully with new and improved shipboard safety features.

Photo Credits: Coast Guard searches for missing shipyard worker
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