Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Vessel adrift in fog leads to tragedy—Part 2

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council magazine

Coast Guard Investigation
The Coast Guard’s investigation determined that the center lead barge in the tow collided with the recreational vessel, rolling the smaller boat. Tragically, the swamping of the boat, combined with the force of the collision with the tow, drowned all six men aboard.

Problems on the towboat
Visibility: Fog in the area limited visibility to less than half a mile, so the pilot activated the towboat’s automatic fog signal. The captain and the pilot testified that they were unable to see either riverbank at a distance of approximately 1,000 feet.

Blind spot: The captain was serving as the sole lookout from the pilothouse at the time of the collision, and the towboat’s empty barges were riding high in the water, making it harder to see objects in front of them.

Radar clutter: Open hopper barges can cause radar signals to bounce off the inside plating, producing a “cluttered” image that can make the tow appear larger than it is. This effect can obscure radar contacts that fall within the oversized image.

The lack of a forward lookout and radar clutter on the towboat notwithstanding, the condition of the recreational vessel and its crew significantly contributed to the tragedy.

Problems on the recreational vessel
Lights: Investigators determined that the recreational vessel did not have any navigation lights on at the time of the collision.

Sound-producing mechanism: There was no fog signal in place aboard the vessel. The boat was equipped with a conventional horn; however, as fog absorbs sound, it was unlikely that this would have been heard even if it had been used.

Radar: The vessel was not equipped with VHF radio or radar, and had no radar reflector.

Overload: The recreational vessel’s loading exceeded the maximum weight rating recommended by the manufacturer by approximately 229 pounds, which would have decreased both the vessel’s radar signature and its visibility.

Unanchored vessel: The anchor and line were found inside the vessel when it was recovered, revealing that it was adrift at the time of the collision.

Situational awareness: The victims may have had severely diminished situational awareness at the time of the collision. The men had been out all night, and two of them had been on the water for approximately 16 hours, so fatigue may have been a factor.

Lifesaving apparatus: No one aboard the recreational vessel was wearing a personal flotation device at the time of the accident.

In part 3, we will highlight the Coast Guard’s conclusions.

Caption: The towboat’s empty barges were riding high in the water, making it
hard to see objects in front of it.

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