Mate’s Misjudgment Of The Tow’s Speed Led Accident


The National Transportation Safety Board issued Marine Accident Brief 21/23 for its investigation of the Nov. 14, 2020, accident involving the towing vessel and the Centerville Turnpike Bridge near Chesapeake, Virginia.


On November 14, 2020, about 0435 local time, the towing vessel was transiting eastbound with a crew of four on the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal near Chesapeake, Virginia, pushing ahead barge BH 2903, which was loaded with scrap steel.

As the tow was attempting to pass through the Centerville Turnpike Bridge, the barge struck the swing span of the bridge while it was opening. No pollution or injuries were reported. 

Estimated damages amounted to $2.86 million for the bridge and $34,000 for the barge.


Visibility was not restricted, so the Centerville Turnpike Bridge’s red and green range lights would have been visible to the mate, and the roadway over the bridge was well lit. 

The mate stated that he could clearly see the bridge at night. Furthermore, he stated that he had trained his spotlights on the bridge fenders, further illuminating the structure. 

Thus, visibility was not a factor in the accident. The accounts of the towing vessel mate and the bridge operator differed regarding the use of the bridge horn as a signal acknowledging the request for opening. 

However, the regulations allow for requests and acknowledgments to be conducted by sound signal, visual signal, or VHF communications; both the mate and bridge operator reported that a verbal exchange was conducted. 

The use or unuse of the bridge’s horn was therefore not a factor in this accident.

Probable cause 

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the contact of the towing vessel with the Centerville Turnpike Bridge was the mate’s misjudgment of the tow’s speed of approach relative to the status of the swing bridge opening, which resulted in insufficient time to slow the tow and avoid striking the bridge before it was fully open and safe to navigate.

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Source: ntsb


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