Gloucester Captain Joseph Trupiano Grateful to Have Survived Tugboat Sinking Off Colombia

boat sinking 22wJoseph R. Trupiano Jr. of Gloucester escaped with three crewmembers when the tugboat Spence sank off the coast of Colombia while towing a barge to Cuba. COURTESY PHOTO

By Terry Weber / Special to the Beacon

Dec. 28, 2015

Looking back at 2015, the members of the Trupiano family of Gloucester are especially grateful that the year ended in happiness and good fortune instead of tragedy. That’s because Joseph R. Trupiano Jr., a tugboat captain, survived the sinking of his tugboat off the coast of Colombia in mid-December.

Trupiano, 54, had regularly served as a tugboat captain for TransAtlantic Lines but on this particular assignment, he was serving as a First Mate on the tugboat Spence. The intended mission and route was to pull a barge from Cartagena, Colombia to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Coincidentally, the tugboat had just undergone inspection and repairs in Cartagena before being deemed seaworthy for the trip.

In addition to Trupiano as First Mate, the team included Captain James Stock, Engineer William Wakefield, and Able Bodied Seaman (AB) Kenneth Williams; all except Trupiano were from Florida.

On Dec. 13, the Spence crew headed for Cuba and the next day at 2 p.m., a back (stern) compartment flooded causing a 25-degree list or tilt to the right (starboard) and the stern began to sink. “It happened quickly,” said Trupiano. “The stern was almost submerged in less than two minutes. We still don’t know what caused the flood but it was massive and we had to act immediately.”

The crew placed a May Day call but no one responded, so they put on their life jackets and decided to steer the sinking boat toward the barge they were pulling so they could board it. “We decided against the survival suits, because our last resort would be to swim for the barge which was about 1,600 feet away,” said Trupiano. “Survival suits are great for floating, but not for swimming or attempting to climb up or onto a barge. The barge offered the most safety.” Although the tugboat was sinking, Trupiano steered the boat close to the barge and all four crewmembers prepared to jump to the barge’s deck.

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SHEILA AND JOEJoseph and Shelia

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