The fast action of two Boston Harbor Pilot Association captains likely saved the lives of three crewmembers of a tugboat that sank in Boston Harbor early Tuesday morning.
Captain Shawn Kelly told Boston.com he turned the pilot boat Chelsea around and began racing to the scene as soon as fellow captain Joe Maloney received the distress call from a tug in North Channel, several miles off Deer Island.
The call came in about 6:15 a.m. from the Emily Anne—a tug operated by North Shore Marine out of Salem, Mass., Kelly said.
For a while Kelly, who was piloting the boat, said he could see the sinking tug’s lights. With a mile to go, however, the lights vanished.
By the time they arrived at the debris field, the three crewmen had been in the water for an estimated 3-5 minutes, Kelly said. They had been unable to put on their survival suits, and were only wearing float coats—jackets designed to keep a person’s torso up out of the water. One of the crew was in a lifeboat, the other two were in the water, he said.
Kelly got the boat to the crewmen and Maloney quickly pulled them to safety.
All three were OK, Kelly said.
Kelly said the water temperature was 37 degrees at the time of the sinking, and that it was unlikely the crew could have survived for more than 10 minutes in the water. A Coast Guard spokesman confirmed that the crew had a small amount of time before they were in danger of drowning.
A Coast Guard vessel arrived on the scene after the men were rescued, and escorted the Chelsea back to port.
“It felt pretty good to be able to save them,’’ Kelly said. “They’d do the same thing for us. It’s just the way everybody is in the maritime community.’’
It’s unclear what caused the tugboat to sink. A spokesman from North Shore Marine told Boston.com the incident is under investigation. A Boston Fire Department spokesman said the Coast Guard would investigate.