Top 4 Checks Before Letting Go the Towline



On 5th February 2016, Vola 1 arrived at Amsterdam to discharge 12,600 tonnes of sunflower seed. A Dutch pilot, assisted by two harbour tugs, conducted the navigation of the vessel into Vlothaven. There was light to gentle breeze and the visibility was good. Shortly after the stern line was run ashore at 1730 (LT), the pilot instructed the ship’s master to let go the aft tug. The aft tug was fast to a single bitt using the tug’s line through the centre Panama fairlead.

The master relayed the instructions to the second mate who was in charge of the aft mooring station. The other crew members manning the aft station were a fitter, a motorman and two able seamen (AB). All crew members were wearing their protective clothing, including safety helmet, safety shoes and gloves.

View of aft mooring deck showing simulated position of second mate and the AB 2

The tug’s towline was slack. The messenger line attached to it was warped around the winch drum and held by AB 1. The second mate and AB 2 lifted the eye by hand. Before the eye was set free from the bitt, the towline became taut. The pull on the towline was unforeseen and sudden. The left hand of AB 2 was drawn with the towline and trapped against the bitt. At the time of the accident, the fitter was on the winch control panel and the motorman was handling the stern line.

Actions Taken:

Following the accident, the Company ensured that the accident was discussed at length and in detail during safety committee meetings on board and shore-based ISM seminars for officers.

Sketch showing approximate position of mooring crew


The Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s Marine Guidance Note 308 (M+F) recommends good communication between the tug and vessel to ensure that instructions on towlines are understood at all times to avoid unexpected loads.

The UK’s Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seafarers advises that it is not uncommon for the gear to become taut without warning and a number of accidents have occurred during the operation of making fast and releasing a tow. The Code recommends that before letting go, the vessel has to:

  • establish positive communications with the tug’s crew and ensure that the tug has indicated that it is ready to receive the tow back;
  • use the tug’s messenger line to heave in the slack and then stopper it off before taking the eye of the towline from the bollard; and
  • take turns of the messenger line around the bollard to control the speed at which it is lowered and retrieved on board the tug; and
  • make no attempt to handle towlines that have weight on them.

Navigation Maritime Bulgare is recommended to:

  • Review ‘Shipboard Safety Operations’ manual and include a procedure on towing operations, securing and letting go of tug’s towline.
  • Review Company’s formal risk assessment and identify control measures with respect to towing operations.

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Source: Transport Malta