NTSB: Broadcast only of boat size led to fatal accident with tugboat

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – A deadly whim crash between barges being pushed by two tugboats in Louisiana was caused by inadequate communication and failure to broadcast their total sizes, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The RC Creppel rolled over and sank after colliding with the Cooperative Spirit at approximately 5:30 a.m. on January 26, 2020. Her pilot, captain and one of the two crew members were never found. A second crew member was rescued.

The first of two barges pushed by the RC Creppel struck some of the 40 barges pushed by the Cooperative Spirit as they attempted to pass each other in a bend in the Mississippi River near Destrehan, the report released in August.

Destrehan is about 15 miles (24 kilometers) west of New Orleans, but about 20 miles along the winding river. The RC Creppel was heading downriver and the Cooperative Spirit upriver.

The agency said none of the boat’s pilots entered the overall dimensions of the boat and tow into the boat. automatic identification system, although previous NTSB reports have emphasized the importance of doing so.

Each broadcast only the size of the tug: 69 feet long (21 meters) for the RC Creppel, 200 feet (61 meters) for the Cooperative Spirit.

The larger boat’s barges, however, stretched an additional 1,400 feet (427 meters) and up to 210 feet (64 meters) in diameter, according to the report. That made the total length almost a third of a mile.

Boats approaching each other would have looked better if either had included its towing size in the broadcasts, the report said.

The RC Creppel pilot gave the full dimensions — 514 feet (157 meters) by 42 feet (13 meters) — to the Cooperative Spirit pilot during a radio call to draw up plans, according to the report. But, he says, the pilot of the larger boat did not provide such information and the pilot of RC Creppel did not ask.

Another call could have clarified what each pilot planned to do, but no subsequent call was made, according to the report.

“The absence of a radio call or ‘danger’ signal indicates that neither pilot was aware of the impending collision,” the report said.

He said the pilot of Cooperative Spirit assumed the pilot of the smaller boat “was in a better place to see and assess their meeting, and had plenty of room to move around.”

But, he says, “Once in sight of each other, about 50 seconds before the crash, there was minimal time for either pilot to react or respond to the movements of the aircraft. ‘other ship to avoid collision.’

The two barges of RC Creppel and seven of the Cooperative Spirit escaped. Then the Glory First, a fully loaded freighter, struck the remaining tow. These 33 barges also broke free.

The first barge of the smaller boat was empty but the second was leaking sulfuric acid fumes. About 8,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled into the river from the sunken tug.

The NTSB said the estimated damage to the three ships and 11 of the barges was nearly $3.8 million.

The agency noted that in 2016 it recommended that the coast guard, the US Waterway Operators and radio technology Commission for Maritime Services are working together to change regulations, procedures and equipment standards to ensure automatic information systems broadcast trailer size and configuration as well as boat length.

It’s still not mandatory.

“We generally expect the actions we recommend to be completed within 5 years; however, these safety recommendations are almost 5 years old and we have not received any updates from the Coast Guard on them in over 4 years,” the NTSB wrote to the Coast Guard on August 20.

the tugs, tugs and barges industry group describes what he did to that end a year ago and the radio committee replied on September 7, but the coast guard hasn’t updated the chart since 2017, according to NTSB webpages.

The Coast Guard is preparing a response that includes its actions since 2017, Coast Guard spokesman Kurt Fredrickson said in an email Tuesday.

The NTSB emphasizes that it does not assign fault or blame for a marine accident. On the contrary, he says, he finds facts without deciding responsibilities or rights.

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