Canadian Tug Losses Increasing


Published Mar 17, 2016 12:50 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Canadian west coast is very dependent on tug and barge transportation, and it has witnessed a significant increase in tug boat losses in 2015. 

Proportionately, year on year, 2015 is remarkably high as six tugs have sunk, in nine incidents involving the vessels. In 2014, only two tugs sank out of 11 incidents; and in 2013, only two out of 15 incidents; and finally in 2012, only one out of 12. 

This is very surprising, says Mariella Dauphinee, a marine claims manager for Intact Insurance Company, Canada, and International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) loss prevention committee member. “To quote Captain Phillip Nelson, President of the Council of Marine Mariners, ‘these boats, they just don’t sink, they shouldn’t sink.’”

The tug boat marine incidents reported in 2015 include: 
•    the sinking of the Syringa near Halfmoon Bay, 
•    a fire on the tug Westview Chinook in Sechelt, 
•    the Renegade which struck a rock, 
•    the sinking of the tug Log Baron while towing a barge near Cape Caution, 
•    the Hodder Ranger which sank during towing operations in Port Mellon, 
•    the sinking of the Harken 10 near Porlier Pass. 

So the question is why are they sinking? “The scenario is all too common, a very rapid and unusual ingress of water; but thankfully the crew are usually fortunate enough to escape with their lives,” says Dauphinee.

A recent study by the Swedish Club Academy dealing with navigational claims found that the main causes of claims are primarily related to human factors such as procedures being ignored, a lack of communication, poor situational awareness and complacency.

Could this be applied to the recent tug losses? “At this stage we don't know why the number of losses has increased and in most cases, the cause remains unknown,” says Dauphinee. “In many cases these vessels are sinking in deep water, leading to suspected extensive damage. Recovery is both expensive and in many cases risky, as disturbing the vessel can result in oil emanating from the hull. ROV search and video inspection is not only costly but difficult to arrange due to depth restrictions and narrow weather windows. 

“In most cases the ROV video does not reveal a definite cause of the sinking and time and time again underwriters take the decision to leave the wreck where she is. What is certain, however, is that good maintenance plays a role. There needs to be effective safety management in order to identify and manage risks associated with a tug’s operation.”