A Scenic View But a Dangerous Place to Stand Onboard a Vessel



The Member’s tug was standing by an anchored dumb barge which was being loaded with sawn timber. The tug Master noted that in the rough sea conditions, the barge was dragging her anchor and starting to drift towards shallow water. The decision was made to tow the barge back to clear waters.


The Chief Officer and Chief Engineer were instructed to pass the tow line to the barge, but in the weather conditions, they experienced difficulty. The cook was observing the operation and, characteristically, offered his assistance. With the cook’s help, the line was successfully made fast. The Master then took the strain on the tow line. The configuration of the tug, tow line and barge was such that the line was in contact with the tug’s towing pins. As the strain on the tow line was increased, the towing pin failed and the tow line struck the cook, who was standing in close proximity. The force of the blow threw him overboard and his body was never recovered.



This fatality arose because the cook was standing in entirely the wrong place when the strain was being taken up on the tow line. From the diagram, it can be seen that the other two crew members were safely standing clear and were never in any danger.

The investigation into this incident did not determine the events or signals that were made between the Chief Officer and the Master once the tow had been successfully made fast, however it is abundantly clear that the cook was allowed to place himself in danger. The Chief Officer should not have given the all fast signal to the Master until all crew had cleared the danger area.

Whilst the cook’s voluntary efforts and willingness to assist his fellow crewmates are commendable, this incident shows how naivety can have disastrous consequences. Catering and engineering staff are not necessarily natural seamen and do not always appreciate the dangers that tow lines pose, nor the destruction that can take place when a line under strain fails through whatever cause. It would appear that in this case no guidance at all was given to the cook – if it was and ignored then a formal order should have been given and towing not commenced until everyone was standing clear and thereafter kept clear until operations were over.

Root Cause

Poor operational practice.

Disclaimer: The featured image is for representation of the incident and need not be considered as an actual case image.

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Source: The Shipowners’ Club


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