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Captain's Inexperience Implicated in Towboat Sinking

St. Rita after the incident
St. Rita after the incident

By The Maritime Executive 03-29-2020 04:11:02

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a Marine Accident Brief about an accident that occurred on March 7, 2019, involving the towboat St. Rita collided with moored barges.

The St. Rita was shifting the hopper barge LTD 14161 across the Mississippi River to the Cooper Consolidated La Place fleeting area, about 23 miles west of New Orleans, Louisiana, when the collision occurred. She then became pinned against a barge block broadside to the current, heeled over and sank. 

The five crewmembers on board abandoned the St. Rita by climbing aboard the LTD 14151 and were later rescued by a Good Samaritan towing vessel. No pollution or injuries were reported. The submerged vessel was considered a total constructive loss and was valued at $1.5 million.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the collision was the captain’s inexperience in executing a fleeting operation on a single headline in heavy river current conditions in close proximity to the head of a block. However, the report notes that the captain’s sounding of the general alarm, when he felt he was losing control and before the boat listed, gave the crew additional time to muster and a warning of the dangerous situation. This action mitigated the occurrence of serious injury and loss of life. 

On hearing the general alarm, the on-watch deckhands assisted the two off-watch deckhands, who had been asleep in their cabins, and made their way toward the wheelhouse. Due to the increasing list and falling equipment that blocked their way, it took the four deckhands about two minutes to make it to the wheelhouse. 

All arrived with their lifejackets, except for one deckhand who had to drop his lifejacket in the passageway below in order to climb up to the wheelhouse. With the St. Rita listing about 40° and water pouring over the port-side bulwark, the captain ordered the crew to abandon the vessel to the LTD 14161 barge, which remained tied to the St. Rita

According to crewmember accounts, the total elapsed time from the sounding of the general alarm to their abandoning the towboat was four to five minutes. 

The report is available here.