Safety lessons still need to be learned and implemented in North American tugboat operations after another tug capsized in Canada
Two workers died in a tugboat accident in British Columbia on 11 February while it was towing a barge along a canal for a civil construction project.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) responded to an emergency beacon signal activated from a tug owned by Prince Rupert-headquartered Wainwright Marine Services. RCMP mobilised west coast marine vessel Inkster from its Hartley Bay base to investigate. Crews found the tugboat had capsized with two dead seafarers, while another man was rescued.
The tugboat was towing a barge to Kemano for Rio Tinto, loaded with cargo and supplies for a tunnel drilling project along the Gardner Canal when the accident occurred 35 nautical miles south of Kitimat.
Transportation Safety Board (TSB) has started an investigation into the accident. It is initially thought the tugboat capsized in bad weather, but there could be other safety factors involved.
This accident is similar to the capsizing of tug George H Ledcor on the Fraser River in British Columbia on 13 August 2018. Then, there were no fatalities as four crew members were rescued from the tug’s overturned hull after it capsized. Canada’s TSB investigated that accident and discovered this tug had girded and overturned when it was towing loaded gravel barge Evco 55. George H Ledcor was assisted by tug Westview Chinook while it was manoeuvring the barge to an unloading facility in the north arm of the Fraser River.
In its 2019 report into the accident, TSB said George H Ledcor girded and capsized after being overtaken by the barge. This changed the angle of the towing line, exerting a broadside force on the tug causing its instability and capsize. Following that accident, TSB warned the towage industry about the safety risk of girding during tug and barge operations.
George H Ledcor’s capsize came nine years after tug North Arm Venture girded and capsized in July 2009 while towing barge North Arm Express in British Columbia.
Although all four crew members on board were rescued, two had minor injuries. The tug was overtaken by the barge, loaded with fuel and deck cargo, at the entrance to Sechelt Rapids, while en route from Toba Inlet to Sechelt Inlet. This led to instability and capsize, according to TSB’s report into that accident.
It is not yet known the causes of last week’s fatal accident on the Gardner Canal, but there could be similar safety lessons.
TSB will thoroughly investigate this accident and provide safety recommendations, which the towage industry needs to follow to prevent future accidents.
Wainwright Marine Services operates a fleet of seven tugboats and 10 barges of various sizes, plus it provides industrial equipment, cranes, fuel trucks, flat decks and freight vans.
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