Vessel Sinks as Pilot Fails to Identify Charted Erosion-control Dike While Towing



On July 8, 2017, the Eric Haney departed Paducah, Kentucky, with nine crewmembers (a captain, a pilot, a mate, an engineer, a cook, and four deckhands) and one empty barge. The plan was to transport empty barges to St. Louis, Missouri, making stops along the way to offload and pick up barges.

At 23:29, before the Merrick Jones and its tow passed, the pilot got the Eric Haney under way and began moving upriver along the left descending bank, as confirmed by the ECS.

As the Eric Haney proceeded upriver along the left descending bank at about 6 mph, the pilot felt the boat strike something and stop abruptly. He stopped the engines and then put them in reverse, but the vessel would not move. The captain came to the wheelhouse and stated that he thought the vessel was on a dike. When the captain zoomed in the view on the ECS display, the dikes appeared larger on the screen.

The captain and pilot ensured that all crewmembers were awake and accounted for. After determining that the towboat was taking on water in the forward hold, the pilot contacted nearby vessels to inform them of the ingress of water and made a distress call to the US Coast Guard.

Crewmembers started pumps to remove the water, but the pumps could not keep up with the incoming flow. All crewmembers boarded one of the barges, which were still attached to the Eric Haney. A few minutes later, the current freed the Eric Haney and its barges from the dike, and they began to drift downriver. About an hour and a half later, a towboat came alongside the drifting Eric Haney and barges.

After the crew of the Eric Haney climbed onto the assisting towboat, the other vessel pushed the sinking Eric Haney into the right descending bank near mm 9. The vessel continued to take on water and partially sank, but the bridge and part of the stern remained above the waterline. The barges broke free and were later recovered.

The Eric Haney was brought to the surface by a salvage team on July 22 and dry docked later that day for inspection and repairs.

Probable Cause

​The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the grounding and subsequent sinking of the Eric Haney was the pilot’s failure to identify a charted navigation hazard (erosion-control dike) during towing operations.


Mariners using electronic chart systems (ECS) should be aware that aids to navigation, hazards, and other map features may not be represented on the displays at certain range scales. Mariners should use appropriate range scales for their routes on ECS displays to identify potential hazards while navigating.

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Source: NTSB


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