Freighter crew safe after riding out Hurricane Ike

Saturday, September 13th 2008, 11:49 am
By: News 9

(CNN) -- A freighter that had been adrift in the Gulf of Mexico made it through Hurricane Ike safely and was awaiting a tugboat to bring it to shore Saturday morning.

All 22 people aboard the Antalina, a Cypriot-flagged freighter, were safe, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Mike O'Berry said Saturday.

The freighter rode out the storm until the heaviest of winds died down Friday night, O'Berry said. It remained 170 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas, waiting for a motor tugboat to bring it back to port, he said.

The tugboat Rotterdam likely will reach the stranded vessel by noon CT Saturday (1 p.m. ET), Coast Guard Cmdr. Ron Labrec said.

The freighter suffered no major damage from the storm, said Darrell Wilson, a spokesman for the company that manages the ship.

Aircraft from the Coast Guard and Air Force were sent Friday afternoon to try to rescue the crew of the freighter, which is loaded with petroleum coke, a petroleum byproduct.

But high winds forced the military to abort the rescue, O'Berry said.

The Coast Guard then instructed the freighter to contact it each hour. It also told told the crew to turn on the ship's emergency radio beacon so its position could be monitored, O'Berry said.

Onshore as well, rescuers found it too dangerous to respond to calls for help.

In Liverpool, Texas, south of Houston, a family called for help around 1 a.m. Saturday when a tree crashed into their house, but authorities concluded that strong winds made it too dangerous to respond, said Doc Adams, Brazoria County's emergency management coordinator.

"You want to take care of people, and when you can't, it's tough," Adams said.

"Unfortunately, someone has to make the decision about whether the risk is worth the benefit. Are you willing to risk three or four lives to save one? It's not easy."

Adams said he didn't know if anyone in the house was hurt.

"As far as I know, they're still there in the house with a tree over it," he said at about 3:40 a.m.

The stranded freighter had been headed south through the Gulf of Mexico from Port Arthur, Texas, but "lost main propulsion 90 miles southeast of Galveston" and was unable to steer, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard received a distress call from the vessel at 4 a.m. Friday. The Antalina was "basically adrift, at the mercy of the wind and sea currents," Coast Guard Petty Officer Tom Atkeson said at the time.

On Friday before the storm hit, authorities picked up more than 120 people stranded by rising seas along the southeast Texas coast.

Most of the rescues occurred in Galveston County, where rising water and other effects of the storm began hours before landfall early Saturday.

Stranded residents were airlifted from Crystal Beach, Bolivar Peninsula and other communities in the Galveston area. Many of those rescued were motorists stranded on flooded roads.

In Surfside Beach, police waded through chest-high rushing water to rescue five people trapped in their homes. One man refused to leave, said Surfside Beach police Chief Randy Smith.

"Some of them took convincing, some of them didn't," Smith said.

Police also rescued five other people who waded out to meet the officers.

About half of those rescues were done by helicopters out of bases along the coast, said Coast Guard Petty Officer David Schulein.

Three HH-65C helicopters from Coast Guard Air Station Houston rescued more than 20 people and continued to fly rescue missions until weather grounded them Friday evening, said Petty Officer Renee Aiello, a station spokeswoman.

Some 37,000 people may need to be rescued in the aftermath of the hurricane, a U.S. military official estimated Friday. Texas already has asked for help, and the active-duty military has 42 search-and-rescue helicopters on standby, the official said.