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NTSB: collision leading to loss of life and damage

The National Transportation Safety Board of the United States (NTSB) has published Marine Accident Brief 21/16 relating to a collision on the Mississippi river in January 2020. The collision led to damage and loss of life, and learnings from the causes of the collision are applicable to the operations of IMCA members.

What happened

One towing vessel was moving 40 barges upriver, and another was moving two barges downriver, when they collided. As a result, one of the towing vessels capsized.  Minutes later, a third vessel going upriver made contact with the some of the barges being towed.  All 42 barges from both tows broke free and were later recovered.

One of the four members of the crew of the capsized vessel was rescued; the remaining three were never recovered and are presumed dead.  The accident resulted in the release of about 8,000 gallons (US) of diesel fuel into the river and sulphuric acid vapours into the atmosphere, and property damage to three vessels and 11 barges, costing an estimated US$3.8 million.

What was the cause?

The NTSB’s investigation found that the probable causes of the collision were (IMCA bold for emphasis):

  • The two pilots’ insufficient radio communication before meeting in a bend of the river;
  • Not broadcasting accurate AIS information regarding tow size.​

Lessons learned

  • Ensuring adequate communications – whilst this incident is about communications as an aspect of seamanship, the same principles apply to communications between:
    • Shifts at shift change time;
    • Crews at crew handover time;
    • Departments within the vessel – bridge team, lifting personnel etc.,
    • Departments within a company – project, crewing, human resources, engineering etc.,
    • Client and contractor, and contractor and sub-contractor.
  • Up to date information – ensuring that all appropriate and up to date information is available to all stakeholders, is likewise a lesson applicable not only to the bridge operation but to all.  To do so helps to alleviate possible misinterpretation and enhances situational awareness.

Members may wish to refer to:

Safety Event

Published: 1 October 2021
Download: IMCA SF 27/21

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