Sunday, February 16, 2014

U. S. S. CROCUS: Coast Guard Lighthouse Tender

U. S. Coast Guard Cutter CROCUS and Her Crew
date unknown
Captain Frank Hamilton Photographs
Charles E. Frohman Collection

The Crocus was built at Shooter's Island in Richmond, New York by the Townsend-Downey Company in 1905.  She was a steel-hulled Inspector's Tender assigned to duty at the 10th Lighthouse District and was based at Buffalo, New York. In 1932, she was converted to oil-fired boilers and transferred to Detroit. During WWII she was based in Toledo, Ohio, continuing her peacetime duties of servicing navigation aids. She was decommissioned in 1946.

In December 1942, she assisted the United States Coast Guard vessel Ossipee in recovering the bodies from the wrecked oil barge Cleveco and the tug Admiral after both foundered in a raging winter storm some nine miles from the harbor at Cleveland, Ohio. Loaded with nearly a million gallons of fuel oil, the Cleveco with 18 hands aboard, was being towed from Toledo to Cleveland by the tug the Admiral when suddenly the tow line went limp. The Admiral disappeared beneath the surface after encountering 18-foot waves in a blinding snowstorm.  The crew of the 260-foot barge radioed for help, but without power, they could do little more than hope for the best. The Ossippee arrived, but failed in her attempts to get a towline to the Cleveco.  A short time later, the barge and her crew met the same fate as the Admiral. In all, 32 sailors perished.

The wreck of the Cleveco remained a concern. With a full cargo of oil, an environmental catastrophe would result if a ship collided with the sunken barge. In 1961, salvage crews attempted to bring the big tanker barge to the surface and pump off the oil. Once again, bad weather played a role. Failing in their efforts, the salvage crews towed the Cleveco to deeper waters and sunk her once more. 

In 1995, leaking oil appeared on the Lake Erie surface. This time, the Coast Guard and salvage crews were successful in reaching the overturned tanker barge and pumping off more than 340,000 gallons of oil. Resting some 14 miles from Euclid, Ohio, in 78 feet of water, the  ill-fated Cleveco no longer poses a threat to the environment or as a navigational hazard. Instead she remains a popular site for shipwreck divers. 

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