Rescued crew from listing cargo ship happy to be alive

Captain says vessel began shifting after it was hit by a wave as ballast was adjusted

Posted: Wednesday, July 26, 2006

ANCHORAGE - The crew members were cut and bruised, thirsty and ravenous when they arrived on the Alaska island, their muscles deeply strained from hours and hours spent clinging to a ship that abruptly leaned into the North Pacific.

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Only 10 minutes passed between the time the Cougar Ace began listing in rough seas and the time it was almost lying on its side, giving crews little time to send out a distress signal, nurse practitioner Michael Terry said Tuesday from a clinic on Adak Island. He was among the locals who took in most of the ship's 23 crew members after their rescue late Monday ended a daylong ordeal 230 miles to the south.

"These guys are thrilled right now," Terry said in a telephone interview. "They feel so fortunate, so grateful things weren't worse."

The crew arrived Tuesday to cloudy skies and spotty rain at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage. Carrying bright red survival suits and other belongings in clear plastic bags, they walked quickly from the snub-nosed transport plane across the damp tarmac and disappeared through the gray door leading to customs.

Crew members were instructed not to discuss the matter, ship captain Nyi Nyi Tun said through a clinic worker. But earlier Tuesday, the 46-year-old Myanmar man told The Associated Press he and his shipmates were resting and could not talk.

The captain, however, told Terry that the Cougar Ace began shifting sharply after the ship was hit by a large wave while the ballast was being adjusted. Terry said rescuers told him the adjustment was made to conform to U.S. codes as the ship prepared to leave international waters.

Terry said most of the injuries occurred during the sudden tilting of the 654-foot ship, which was carrying nearly 5,000 cars from Japan to the West Coast. One man, 41-year-old Saw Lucky Kyin of Myanmar, broke an ankle on the railing. Rescuers flew him to Anchorage, where he was listed Tuesday in good condition at Providence Alaska Medical Center.

With the crew safe, the Coast Guard and vessel operators turned their attention to salvaging the massive car carrier, which remained floating on its side, officials said. The 4,813 cars on board, including some Mazdas, are secured in compartments with heavy chains and believed to be inside the ship, which Petty Officer Richard Reichenbach likened to a giant parking garage.

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