Insufficient Communication Led to Deadly Barge Collision


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued its final report into the fatal collision between the two towboats last year. The board concluded that inadequate passing arrangements and inaccurate AIS presets were the primary causes of the accident.


The towing vessel A was pushing 40 barges upbound on the Lower Mississippi River, and the another towing vessel B was pushing two barges downbound when the two tows collided at mile 123, near Destrehan, Louisiana.

The towing vessel B capsized as a result of the collision. Minutes later, the upbound dry bulk carrier made contact with the starboard side of the towing vessel A. 

All 42 barges from both tows broke free and were later recovered. One of the four towing vessel B crewmembers was rescued; the remaining three were never recovered and are presumed dead. 

The accident resulted in the release of about 8,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the river and sulfuric acid vapors into the atmosphere, and an estimated $3,781,126 in property damage to the 3 vessels and 11 barges.

Probable Cause

During investigation ​the National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the collision of the two towing vessel was the two pilots’ insufficient radio communication before meeting in a bend and not broadcasting accurate AIS information regarding tow size.​

Lesson learnt 

  • When meeting or overtaking a vessel in a bend, especially where high-water conditions can increase the risk of a collision, early and effective communication is critical to ensuring a successful meeting. 
  • The use of VHF radio can help to dispel assumptions and provide bridge teams and towing vessel operators with the information needed to better assess each vessel’s intentions.
  • The NTSB has previously noted the importance of ensuring that vessels engaged in towing operations broadcast accurate AIS information regarding tow size. 
  • Consistently entering the complete dimensions of a tow configuration into AIS for each transit helps to alleviate possible misinterpretation and thus enhances the situational awareness of all waterway users.

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Source: ntsb



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