Cougar Ace


Tall Cargo Carrier

Extreme List

Was The Cougar Ace Another Top-Heavy Ship?


By James Donahue

July 29, 2006


A dramatic rescue by helicopter of the 23 members of the listing automobile carrier Cougar Ace has revealed yet another incident involving a modern ship at sea just tipping over for undisclosed reasons.


The 654-foot freighter was making its way across the Northern Pacific on its way to Canada with nearly 5,000 automobiles packed on its upper decks when the vessel began listing in what was described as “choppy seas.” The ship was not bucking a severe storm, or excessively high seas.


When the Alaska Air National Guard and U.S. Coast Guard reached the Cougar Ace, about 230 miles off Adak in the Aleutian Island chain, they said the ship was listing 90 degrees, which means it was almost lying flat on its side. The seas at the time were at 10 feet and the winds were blowing at 30 knots, which complicated the rescue.


If you look at pictures of this ship it is clear that the manufacturers and owners designed it to carry a maximum load, packing decks that appear as high, if not higher than the hull projected into the water. With the weight of 5,000 automobiles crammed into those upper decks, it is easy to understand why the vessel simply tipped over.


The crew told of finding it impossible to launch life boats. Three life rafts were dropped on the listing port side of the vessel, but the seas carried them under the ship before anybody could secure them. A fourth raft was dropped on the starboard side, but it was a 150-foot drop to the water to reach it.


The nearest Coast Guard rescue ship was estimated to be at least a full day away from the area.


With no other alternatives, it appeared that the helicopters offered the crew its only chance for survival from an obviously sinking ship. In what was described as a daring rescue, the crew members were hoisted into the two National Guard Pave Hawk helicopters and a Coast Guard helicopter then flown north to Adak Island. One crew member suffering a broken ankle was then flown by plane to Anchorage for medical treatment.


It wasn’t clear if the ship had sunk.


The Cougar Ace, owned by the Tokyo-based Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, was on its way to Vancouver. The vessel was caught in rain squalls and from eight to 10-foot seas when it took on a list. The cause of the list was not explained.


The ship was classified as a M.V. and had been operating since it was launched in June, 1993. It was part of a new design of freight carriers that were setting records for the number of automobiles shipped to North America from Japan.


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