Lead Barge of the Uninspected Towing Vessel Collided with the Tow


Fire aboard EMS 343 barge after the collision. (Photo by PennEnergy, July 2015)

The National Transportation Safety Board has published a Marine Accident Report on the Collision between the Tows of Towing Vessels Capt. Shorty C and Jackie.


On July 20, 2015, at 0102 central daylight time, the lead barge of the uninspected towing vessel Capt. Shorty C collided with the tow of the uninspected towing vessel Jackie at the entrance to the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway at Port Bolivar, Texas, causing a fire on the aft barge of the Jackie’s tow. Neither towboat was damaged, but three barges sustained an estimated total of $608,000 in damages. No pollution or injuries were reported.

Capt. Shorty C (left) and Jackie (right) after the accident

After the accident, a diver inspected the Capt. Shorty C and reported that the lower 60 percent of the starboard rudder (about 4 feet by 7 feet) was missing at the “breakaway immediately under [the] rudder strut.” Both propellers had some damage: the port propeller had two bent flukes, and the starboard propeller had one bent fluke. The following day, the Capt. Shorty C was drydocked and the propellers along with the starboard rudder were replaced.

Investigators learned during interviews that there had been two “touch and go” incidents of the Capt. Shorty C grounding within two weeks of the accident. Just days before, the pilot and the captain were trying to ascertain the possibility of damage underneath the vessel as a result of these incidents. The pilot acknowledged that the Capt. Shorty C had been operating normally in open deep water, but in shallow water it was handling a little sluggishly.Based on crew testimony, the Capt. Shorty C had also been experiencing intermittent engine failures for the last two years after major overhauls were completed on the engines. The failures typically occurred when the engine was shifted quickly from ahead to astern. The issues were reported to the company; repair components were ordered but had yet to be received. An inspection of the starboard engine was conducted a day after the accident by a manufacturer’s representative.

EMS 343 after the accident: at left, fire damage on outboard side; at right, burned diesel engine.

The service report indicated that the governor—a device used to control the speed of an engine—did not respond; the company was advised to have it sent to a specialist for repair. The governors from both engines were removed, disassembled, and inspected for worn and/or broken parts at a manufacturer’s recommended shoreside facility.The specialist found that both governors had damaged seals in their driveshafts, worn main pilot valves, and visible external oil leaks from worn or hardened seals and O-rings. The governor from the starboard engine also had an air bellows and air bellows cup that were corroded.

Stern of Capt. Shorty C in drydock: at left, circled in yellow, missing lower portion of the starboard rudder; at right, bent fluke of the port propeller.


The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the collision between the Capt. Shorty C and the Jackie was the operators’ attempt to meet in a location known for strong currents and shoaling, which was contrary to published guidance for that waterway.

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Source: NTSB


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