Inadequate Communication Led To Fatal Collision


The National Transportation Safety Board says a fatal head-on crash between two towboats pushing barges in Louisiana was caused by inadequate communication and failure to broadcast their total sizes


Destrehan is about 15 miles (24 kilometers) west of New Orleans, but about 20 miles away along the twisting river. The towboat A was heading downriver and the towboat B was going upriver.

The boat’s pilot had entered the total dimensions of boat and tow into the boat’s automatic identification system.

Each was broadcasting only the towboat’s size: 69 feet long (21 meters) for the towboat A, 200 feet (61 meters) for the towboat B.

The larger boat’s, though, stretched ahead for another 1,400 feet (427 meters) and up to 210 feet (64 meters) across. That made the total length nearly one-third of a mile.

The boats approaching each other would have had a better picture if either had included its tow size in the broadcasts.

The towboat A pilot gave full dimensions — 514 feet (157 meters) by 42 feet (13 meters) — to the towboat B during a radio call to work out plans. But, the larger boat’s pilot didn’t provide such information and the towboat A pilot didn’t ask.

Another call might have clarified what each pilot planned to do, but no subsequent call was made.

The towboat A overturned and sank after the collision with the towboat B about. Its pilot, captain and one of two crewmen were never found. A second crewman was rescued.

The first of two barges pushed by the towboat A hit some of the 40 barges pushed by the towboat B as they tried to pass each other in a bend of the Mississippi River near Destrehan.

Both of the towboat A barges and seven of the towboat B broke loose. Then the, a fully loaded cargo ship hit the remaining tow. Those 33 barges broke free, too.

The smaller boat’s first barge was empty but the second leaked sulfuric acid vapors. About 8,000 gallons of diesel fuel leaked into the river from the sunk towboat.

The estimated damage to the three vessels and 11 of the barges totaled nearly $3.8 million.


During investigation it was found that 

  • The absence of a radio call or ‘danger’ signal indicates that neither pilot was aware of the impending collision, the report said.
  • The NTSB says a fatal head-on crash between two towboats pushing barges in Louisiana was caused by inadequate communication and failure to broadcast their total sizes
  • The towboat B pilot assumed that the smaller boat’s pilot was in a better location for viewing and assessing their meeting, and had plenty of room to move.


The agency recommended that the Coast Guard, the American Waterways Operators and the Radio Technical Commission for Maritime Services work together to change regulations, procedures, and equipment standards to ensure that automatic information systems broadcast tow size and configuration as well as boat length.

The tugboat, towboat and barge industry group described what it’s done toward that end a year ago but the Coast Guard hasn’t updated the board since 2017, according to NTSB webpages.

The NTSB emphasizes that it does not assign fault or blame for marine accidents. Rather, it says, it finds facts without deciding liabilities or rights.

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Source: abc news


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