Precis File
SHIP NAME:Argo MerchantKEY:NUM. ENTRIES:6
sourceOSCH
typeA
volume183000B
materialNo 6 fuel oil/cutterstock
dead
link

At approximately 0600 on December 15, 1976, the Liberian tanker Argo Merchant went aground on Fishing Rip (Nantucket Shoals), 29 nautical miles southeast of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts in high winds and ten foot seas. The vessel was carrying approximately 183,000 barrels of No. 6 Fuel Oil (80%) and cutter stock (20%). The master of the Argo Merchant requested permission to dump cargo in an effort to control draft and re-float the vessel. Permission was denied and attempts to lighter and re-float the vessel using emergency pumps and an Air Deliverable Anti-Pollution Transfer System (ADAPTS) were unsuccessful. The following day the weather worsened and the crew of the Argo Merchant was evacuated. On December 17 the vessel began to pivot clockwise and buckle. On December 21 the vessel broke in two aft of the king post, spilling approximately 36,000 barrels of cargo. The bow section split forward of the bridge and capsized on December 22, resulting in the loss of the remaining cargo. The bow section floated 400-500 yards to the southeast and was eventually sunk by the USCG while the stern section remained aground. Prevailing currents carried the spilled oil away from the shorelines and beaches of Nantucket. Weather conditions and uncharted depths surrounding the wreck made salvage attempts difficult.

No. 6 fuel oil is a heavy product with an API gravity that ranges from 7 to 14. The bulk of the spill formed large pancakes (largest observed was 240 feet by 760 feet) and sheens on the surface. Inspection of the pancakes by divers revealed flat bottoms. Fresh oil formed pancakes 1-1.5 inches thick with tiered edges. The pancakes thickened as the oil aged, some heavily weathered pancakes up to 10 inches thick were observed. The weathered pancakes lacked tiered edges and associated sheens. The cutter stock, which was mixed with the fuel oil to improve handling, entered the water column. Levels as high as 250 parts per billion were measured beneath areas of fresh oil. Extensive efforts were made to monitor and track the spill. Detailed mapping was undertaken due to the level of concern, potential impacts, and to help develop more accurate trajectory models for future spills. Multiple trajectory models were utilized and evaluated during the incident. Accurate measurements of the speed of the spill revealed i that oil in pancakes traveled at an average speed of about 1.1% of the wind speed, and the sheens somewhat slower. The spill moved to the south-southeast of the wreck site, out over the continental shelf, and into the prevailing North Atlantic circulation pattern. As the oil moved further offshore, wind direction and weather conditions became less of a concern. i Six thousand drift cards were deployed between the spill and the coast i in an attempt to give advance warning at locations of imminent shoreline impacts. Large tar balls (up to 70 pounds) came ashore in the Nantucket area during March of 1977. i Analysis of the oil confirmed that it was No. 6 Fuel Oil, but it could not be directly identified as product from the Argo Merchant. Some impacts to the bottom sediments were observed in the area of the sunken bow section of the vessel. In addition to this localized area, one sediment sample taken from the area of the spill showed oil contamination.

In-situ burning was attempted on two occasions. The material used was composed of fine grained, fumed silica particles treated with silane to render the material hydrophobic. Originally marketed as CAB-O-SIL ST-2-0, the product was later marketed under the trade name Tullanox 500. In the first burning attempt, conducted on December 27, a USCG helicopter dropped isolated boxes of Tullanox 500 charged with JP-4 jet fuel onto the oil and ignited the boxes using a timed grenade. The isolated boxes burned, but the flame failed to spread. It was believed that the wicking agent was not sufficiently dispersed to allow spreading of the flames. The second attempt was conducted on December 31. The USCG vessel Spar, aided by aircraft, located a 90 foot by 120 foot elliptically shaped slick that was of a heavy, tarry consistency, and 6 to 8 feet thick. The slick broke into smaller pancakes as the Spar maneuvered alongside. Sixty-six pounds of Tullanox 500, in 11 pound bags, were thrown near the center of a 30 foot by 60 foot slick. The bags were torn open and much of the material was blown off of the slick. Another application of six bags was applied along the edge of the slick and charged with JP-4. The experiment was terminated after attempts to ignite the slick failed to sustain a burn.


sourceITOPF
typeA
volume28000T
material
dead
linkhttp://www.itopf.com/casehistories.html#argomerchant

The Argo Merchant ran aground on the Nantucket Shoals, off Massachusetts, USA, on 15th December, 1976, and over the next month spilled her entire cargo (28,000 tonnes) of heavy fuel oil and cutter stock. Storms broke up the tanker and attempts to pump the oil into another vessel failed. In-situ burning was tried on two occasions, but the slick failed to sustain a burn. There was no other significant attempt at clean-up at sea, due to strong wind and heavy wave action.

Winds during the spill were offshore and as a result no oil from the Argo Merchant ever reached the shoreline and no coastal impact occurred. The bulk of the spill formed large `pancakes' and sheens on the surface which were carried away from the wreck site, out over the continental shelf and into the prevailing North Atlantic circulation pattern. The accident occurred at the time when the fewest potential effects on pelagic organisms would be expected; a period of low productivity in the water column, with few fish eggs and larvae present. Oiled birds were seen near the wreck but it was concluded that the spill probably had little effect on the coastal and marine bird populations off the New England coast.


sourceSIS83
typeD
volume
material
dead
link

24 miles off course


sourceETC
typeD
volume178571B
materialNo 6 Fuel oil/naptha
dead
link

Naptha would not be used as a cutter stock for Heavy fuel oil, rather something like diesel.


sourcePaine, Ships of the world
typeD
volume
material
dead
link

The vehicle of what might have been one of the worst ecological disasters in the United States, the tanker Argo Merchant, was launched as the Arcturus. She led an uneventful life during her first 11 years at sea. but in 1964 she begain to experience chronic problems with her engines, machinery and crew. Between 1964 and 1973, the ship was involved in 14 shipping casualties --- five and a half times the average -- including one collision in Japan and two groundings in Indonesia (under the name Permina Samudra III) and Sicily (as Vari). In 1973, she was bought by Thebes Shipping Inc and renamed Argo Merchant. In 1975, she received Bureau Veritas's highest rating, but following small oil spills at Philadelphia and Boston, the commander of the 1st Coast Guard District recommended barring her from US waters, though that could not be done legally.

In early December 1976 Argo Merchant loaded 7.7 million gallons of crude oil at Puerto La Cruz, Ven. for Boston. Under Captain George Papadopoulos, the ship carried two unqualified crew as helmsmen, a broken gyroscope [sic], inadequate charts, and an inaccurate radio direction finder. AT 0600 on December 15, the tanker ran aground on Middle Rip Shoal in position 41.02N,69.27W -- about 25 miles southeast of Nantucket and more than 24 miles off her intended course. The 38 crew were rewscued, but the shallow waters and the season made it impossible to offload the oil or move the ship. On December 21, 1976, Argo Merchant broke apart and spilled enough oil to heat 18,000 homes for a year. Northwest winds blew the 60 by 100 miles slick offshore, and coastal fisheries and beaches were spared the worst.


sourceCTX
typeD
volume183000B
materialF
dead
link

Ship was loaded with fuel oil from Venezuela to Salem Mass. Should have been in the Boston Harbor traffic lane off Cape Cod, instead grounded well to the west. Several secondary sources point to terrible operating deficiencies including no Loran, gyrocompass not operational, RDF not calibrated for 19 months. Also claim crew misinterpreted RDF signal from Nantucket Lightship by 180 degrees, ship was 24 miles off plotted course when it went aground. However, CTX has not yet seen the official investigation report. There is a book by Winslow, Hard Aground, on this casualty, which CTX has not yet seen.

A modern navigation system (GPS/ECDIS) almost certainly would have prevented this spill, assuming minimal operating standards.