Thursday, October 20, 2011

Vessel adrift in fog leads to tragedy—Part 3

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

The Coast Guard cited violations of Inland Navigation Rules by the operators of the towing vessel, including:
  • Rule 5—Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.
  • Rule 19(c)—Every vessel shall have due regard to the prevailing circumstance and conditions of restricted visibility....
In addition to possible violations of rules 5 and 19c, the Coast Guard cited possible violations of the following Inland Navigation Rules by the operator of the recreational vessel:
  • Rule 9(b)—A vessel of less than 20 meters in length or a sailing vessel shall not impede the passage of a vessel that can safely navigate only within a narrow channel or fairway.
  • Rule 23(c)(i)—A power-driven vessel of less than 12 meters in length may in lieu of the lights prescribed in paragraph (a) of this rule exhibit an all-round white light and sidelights.
  • Rule 35(b)—A power-driven vessel underway but stopped and making no way through the water shall sound at intervals of not more than two minutes two prolonged blasts in succession with an interval of about two seconds between them.
Lessons Learned
Employ a designated lookout. As this story illustrates, radar alone cannot take the place of human eyes and ears when a vessel is pushing ahead nearly 1,000 feet of barges at night in heavy fog.

Both the captain and the pilot were well aware that visibility was a problem: They later told investigators that they could not see either riverbank 1,000 feet away. As seasoned professional mariners, they should have been aware that both the large visual and the radar blind spots further diminished their ability to see.

Practice good seamanship. Fundamental principles of good seamanship apply to all mariners, regardless of vessel or crew size. Boaters should have at least one person aboard who is alert at all times—to do otherwise risks your own and other boaters’ safety. Boating without proper equipment is also extremely dangerous, particularly at night, in inclement weather, and on busy commercial waterways.

No one from the smaller vessel’s crew survived to be held accountable, so the licensed crewmembers on the towboat shouldered most of the blame for the accident. Certainly they made errors, for which they were censured.

However, those on the unlit vessel—drifting slowly into the path of an oncoming barge in the foggy darkness of that July morning—made many mistakes as well. Unfortunately, they paid the ultimate price for their lapse in judgment.

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