Amateur Mate Allided Tow With Bridge While Crew Was Asleep


The Incident

On March 1, 2016, about 0322 local time, the open barge SJ-199 being pushed by the tugboat Kodiak allided with the North Landing Bridge at mile marker 20.2 in Chesapeake, Virginia. Just before the allision, the tow had run over a mooring dolphin on the north side of the river 750 yards from the bridge. Although the vessel incurred no damage, the barge and the bridge sustained an estimated total of $275,000 in damage. No pollution or injuries were reported.

The Waterways

With a crew of four, the tow was en route from Edenton, North Carolina, to Baltimore, Maryland, via several in-land waterways: Albemarle Sound, North River, Currituck Sound, and North Landing River. About 1.6 miles south of the North Landing Bridge, the narrow waterway bends 72 degrees to the west and then 15 degrees to the north for the final half-mile approach to the bridge.

In the hands of an amateur

The mate was the only person in the wheelhouse; a deckhand was in the engine room, and the captain and a second deckhand were asleep. While moving through the bends at a speed of about 4–6 mph, the tow struck and knocked down a mooring dolphin near the NuStar Energy terminal dock.

The mate tried to slow the speed by placing the Kodiak’s engines in neutral while lining up the tow for the transit through the 80-foot-wide horizontal opening of the North Landing Bridge. However, during the approach, the port side of the SJ199 struck the south side of the bridge’s fender system at about 1.7 mph.

Lack of Experience

The accident voyage entailed several first-time experiences for the mate. It was the first time he was incharge of a towboat watch after receiving his credentials in March 2015 as deck officer/mate (pilot) for towing vessels upon near coastal waters. He had not served on board any vessel since October 2014 until he was employed by Intracoastal Marine, Inc. in January 2016.

At the time of the accident, he had been with the company for 2 months and had been on board the Kodiak for only 2 days. The transit was also his first trip through the Intracoastal Waterway. Moreover, the voyage on the North Landing River was the first time the mate transited a narrow waterway through bridges.

Probable Cause

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the allision of the Kodiak tow with the North Landing Bridge was the mate’s inability to safely navigate the vessel due to his inexperience in conning tows through narrow waterways.

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Source: NTSB