Offshore InjuryBlog

Causes of Maritime Tow Boat Accidents

Towboats and tugboats are vessels that play a special role in offshore and industrial operations. While they serve in different territories, both types of vessels are involved in the movement and transportation of large barges, cargo, and equipment across large bodies of water. Tugboats are boats that push or tow other vessels that cannot or should not move themselves, such as large ships in crowded harbors. Generally, tugboats are used on the sea to move barges, oil platforms, disabled vessels and other large equipment. Towboats, or river tugboats, are vessels that perform this type of task along rivers; some smaller vessels are often used on harbors. Large towboats, spanning up to 200 feet long, can push up to 50 large barges lashed together. A skilled crew of tireless mariners runs tugboats. Unfortunately, several tragedies have drawn attention to the inherent dangers faced both on the high seas and on rivers.

Injuries and death have both been caused by a number of accident factors including:

  • Capsizing: There are many things that can cause these vessels to capsize. As one of the most common factors to lead to a tugboat accident, capsizing is dangerous for the entire crew. Strong currents or mechanical failure are the most common causes of capsize accidents. In May of 2013, a Chevron tugboat capsized near Nairobi killing all but one of its crew. The lone survivor was found alive in the submerged vessel almost three days after the accident. The man, who served as the cook, survived on an air pocket of oxygen in the vessel until search divers recovered him.
  • Collision: Unfortunately, collisions among vessels can be common, especially for tugboats on the high seas. With strong currents and wind patterns, ships often collide with barges or other ships, causing damage to the ship and injury to its crew. Workers can also be injured by collisions between the barges they are lashing together for the tugboat.
  • Currents: Both natural currents and wakes from other vessels have been known to cause tugboats to capsize. Not able to withstand the strength and size of currents, tugboats are easily compromised to the natural force of water in large amounts.
  • Mechanical failures: Another towboat capsized on the Mississippi River last summer after sweeping over the rolling gates of the Lock and Dam No. 7. Usually, vessels would steer clear of such conditions but investigators believe that a mechanical failure caused the towboat to lose power after which it was swept by currents over the rolling gates. Two out of the three-man crew survived the accident.
  • On-board dangers: External conditions are not the only factors threatening the safety of the vessel and its crewmen. Like any form of maritime work, there are many dangers in the conditions and work on-board the vessels. Workers are in constant danger of slipping on the wet platforms aboard the ship or being thrown overboard from sudden jolts. Furthermore, workers must manually lash barges together before they are pulled by the tugboat. This requires them to jump from barge to barge, sometimes in the night or under harsh conditions, significantly increasing the risk drowning.

In spite of the inescapable inherent dangers involved with this line of work, seamen are granted legal rights to reasonably safe work environments by legislation such as the Jones Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. Employers are held to certain regulations of safety, maintenance, and cleanliness on board their vessels in order to protect their workers from otherwise avoidable accidents. If you or a loved one was injured or killed in a tugboat or towboat accident, contact Arnold & Itkin to learn how our offshore injury attorneys may be able to help you recover compensation for your troubles and your injuries.

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