MV GREEN LAKE
For Actions on December 31, 2018
Gallant Ship Award Citation:
On 31 December 2018, bound from Japan to Canada, the U.S.-flag Central Gulf Lines RO/RO vessel MV GREEN LAKE received a distress call from the Panamanian-flag ship MV SINCERITY ACE, then suffering fire and explosions some 1,800 nautical miles northwest of Oahu, Hawaii. The GREEN LAKE immediately altered course, racing 54 miles to the aid of fellow mariners. Arriving on scene, GREEN LAKE found SINCERITY ACE ablaze, with many of its crew unable to access lifeboats and trapped on deck amidst billowing smoke. In the churning waters below, four SINCERITY ACE crew members fought for life, while those still on board were forced to abandon ship, clambering down ropes 100 feet into the sea. The GREEN LAKE sprang into action, maneuvering over a wide search area while battling 17 to 20-foot seas and high winds to lift SINCERITY ACE survivors to safety using nets and a bunker crane. For 18 hours, GREEN LAKE’s crew worked tirelessly, recovering survivors, rendering them medical assistance and emotional support, and later conveying them safely to port. Their heroic actions, alongside those of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, and other commercial ships, ultimately saved the lives of 16 of 21 SINCERITY ACE crew members. The GREEN LAKE alone saved seven of those lives. The courage, seamanship, and ingenuity of her captain and crew, including two U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Midshipmen, bring honor upon themselves, their ship, and the U.S.-flag fleet, causing GREEN LAKE to be perpetuated as a Gallant Ship.
Shin Kurushima of Tokyo, Japan built the Pure Car/Truck Carrier MV Green Lake in 1998, for Panamanian based Destreza Maritime SA. The original owners named it Cygnus Leader. It measured 199-meters long and 32-meters wide and weighed 57,613 gross tons. Central Gulf Lines of Mobile, Alabama, purchased the vessel in 2001 and renamed it Green Lake. As a US-flagged vessel, Green Lake was part of the U.S. Maritime Security Program (MSP). The MSP consists of 60 U.S.-flag vessels operating in international trade that are designated available for U.S. Department of Defense use on request.
In the early morning hours of December 31, 2018, Green Lake was en route from Japan to the United States. It carried a crew of 21, and a cargo of automobiles. At the helm, was Captain William Boyce. A little after 0100 local time, Green Lake received a SafetyNet broadcast indicating the car carrier MV Sincerity Ace required rescue. Captain Boyce immediately changed course to assist.
Sincerity Ace was built in 2009, and owned by Cypress Maritime of Panama, and managed by Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd. of Japan. It weighed 59,408 gross tons; was 200-meters long; 32-meters wide; and could carry as many as 6,400 vehicles. On December 25, 2018, it set out from Yokohama, Japan, for Hawaii with a crew of 21 and 3,500 Nissan cars and trucks. Late on December 30, 2018, a fire broke out in the cargo area. The crew responded immediately with firefighting measures, but this was to no avail. By 0100 local time on December 31, the fire raged completely out of control. Four crew members abandoned ship in a life raft to escape the flames. The ship’s master reached out to Japanese authorities and informed them that the remaining 17 men fighting the fire would have to abandon soon.
Japanese authorities relayed the distress call to the U.S. Coast Guard 14th District in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Coast Guard issued a SafetyNet broadcast requesting assistance from any vessels in the area. They also launched two Hercules HC-130 rescue planes from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii. The U.S. Navy 7th Fleet sent a P-8 Poseidon aircraft to assist. Five merchant vessels in the general vicinity of Sincerity Ace received the distress call through the Automated Mutual-Assistance Rescue System (AMVER). The five vessels included: the vehicle carriers MV New Century 1, out of Panama, and the Liberian MV Venus Spirit; the Hong Kong based bulk carrier MV Genco Augustus; the Panamanian LNG Tanker SM Eagle; and MV Green Lake.
The 17 men fighting the fire on Sincerity Ace soon became trapped on the vessel’s deck. Smoke and flames threatened to engulf them. To escape, the crew lowered themselves 100 feet on manropes into the water wearing nothing but life jackets. Of those who went overboard, only seven made it to a second life raft. Rescue planes arrived and dropped supplies to survivors, but those in the water had to wait for the merchant vessels to lift them from the increasingly volatile seas.
Green Lake was the first ship to arrive on site. By then, crewmembers were strewn over miles of ocean and floating in heavy winds and 17 to 20-foot seas. Conditions magnified the already daunting challenges for and the other responders. The distance between the deck and the waterline made it incredibly difficult to pull men directly from the Pacific. Crew on deck had to throw life rings to the floating survivors and pull them to the ship. Exhausted survivors then needed help climbing rope ladders or were lifted in nets to the accessible decks. Green Lake’s crew worked for 18 hours straight to recover seven survivors from the water.
The search stretched on for hours. The five rescue vessels pulled 16 survivors from the Pacific. Both Green Lake and Genco Augustus saved seven Sincerity Ace crewmembers. New Century 1 and Venus Spirit each found and rescued a survivor. The search for the remaining five crew stretched over three days and covered 5,544 nautical miles. Four crew from Sincerity Ace were found deceased and one was never recovered. Green Lake diverted to Honolulu, where it disembarked the survivors, and then continued its voyage. Sincerity Ace burned for five days before the fire died. It returned to Japan under tow from the 282-foot tug Koyo Maru.
After the search, U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Dennis Verano said of the merchant vessels:
We are very grateful for the assistance the crews of these vessels have given during the search and rescue efforts… These crew members went out of their way to aid their fellow mariners, and because of the remoteness of the incident, the outcome may have been very different had they not responded.
On November 1, 2019, Maritime Administrator Mark H. Buzby awarded the Gallant Ship award to Green Lake, and honored Central Gulf Lines, and the individual rescuers. All members of the crew received U.S. Merchant Marine Medals for Outstanding Achievement. During the ceremony, Buzby praised the vessel and crew, saying:
Today, as we honor the crew of a great American ship, we again see the value of the Maritime Security Program to our country… The Green Lake was there to respond in the time-honored tradition of mariners coming to the aid of fellow mariners. This American-trained crew highlights the professionalism and valor of our nation’s mariners, whether conducting humanitarian aid missions or providing vital sustainment to the U.S. Armed Forces.
Green Lake’s captain and crew received two more honors. Congressmen Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, and Bob Gibbs of Ohio, hosted the crew at the United States Capitol in Washington, DC. At a ceremony, they received gold medals from the Association for Rescue at Sea (AFRAS). The crew were again honored at the Admiral of the Ocean Sea (AOTOS) Awards, and presented with the Mariner’s Plaque.
The following Green Lake crewmembers received the U.S. Merchant Marine Medal for Outstanding Achievement: Captain William Harvey Boyce; Chief Mate Kevin Andrew Camarda; 2nd Mate Chelsea Clara Martin; 3rd Mate Matthew James Morgan ; Chief Engineer Joseph Edward Tierney; 1st Assistant Engineer Shauna M. Glasser, 2nd Assistant Engineer Thomas Zachary Pollock, and Deck Cadet Christopher Michael Cashman, United State Merchant Marine Academy; Engine Cadet Jeffrey Patrick Attardi, United State Merchant Marine Academy; Bosun Isaac Amissah; Able Seaman (Deck) Robert Mercurio Calvo ; Able Seaman (Deck) Bernardo Nicolas Bartolome; Able Seaman (Watch) Ted Howard Thompson; Able Seaman (Watch) Paul Walter Gottschling; Able Seaman (Watch) John Clark Rawlings; General Steward Jolanta Czeslawa Goch; Round Cook Jose Felipe Clotter; Steward Peter Schuetz; Oiler (Utility) Mario Bonanza Santos; Oiler (Utility) Godofredo Manding Banatao