Inland Waterways – Tug and Barge Accidents – Hudson River Accidents

The Hudson River originates in the Adirondack Mountains which are located in the northeast of upstate New York. The river forms the border between New York and New Jersey states as it flows for 315 miles, eventually emptying into to the Atlantic Ocean between New York City and Jersey City.

For hundreds of years, this river has served as an important means of transporting cargo. In 1825, the Erie Canal was opened to link the Hudson River with Lake Erie, providing access for shipping between the Great Lake ports and the Atlantic Ocean. Throughout its course, the river is crossed by many bridges and several ferries. These provide potential hazards for tugs and barges to negotiate as they tow vessels or transport goods from one end of the river to the other.

Tug and Barge Accidents on the Hudson River

There have been several accidents involving tugs and barges in recent years:

  • April 2017. In early April, an articulated tug-barge ran aground approximately 30 miles south of Albany, NY. It was carrying 60,000 barrels of gasoline. Fortunately, there no cargo was spilled, and the vessel lifted with the rising tide and proceeded on its journey. However, this incident was of major concern to environmentalists because of the potential damage that could be caused by barges carrying this type of cargo.
  • June 2016. A tug crashed into one of the cables securing the construction barges on the Tappan Zee Bridge causing it to sink partially. All crew got off safely, and no injuries were reported.
  • March 2016. A tugboat with three workers on board collided with a barge working on the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge causing extensive damage above the waterline. The tug sank within minutes and all crew members drowned. A rescue boat pulled one crew member out of the water shortly after the accident but attempts to revive him failed. The body of the second tug worker was retrieved the next day by divers, while the third body could only be removed once the tug was brought to the surface.

    The National Transportation Safety Board found that insufficient manning and fatigue were the main causes of the accident. The crew had to contend with bad weather, strong river currents, and poor visibility for many hours before the collision.

  • October 2011. A tug capsized and sank as it was delivering two passengers to a barge. The passengers managed to scramble on to the barge, but the captain of the tug was swept underneath the barge. He was pulled out of the water without serious injury.
  • August 2008. A tug pushing empty sand barges caught on fire as it was approaching the Tappan Zee Bridge. The crew tried to extinguish the blaze without success, before abandoning the vessel and boarding one of the barges. Another tug was summoned to keep the vessels away from the bridge. The fire was extinguished by the emergency response crew, and no injuries were reported.
  • September 2007. A tug pushing two barges downriver moved too far to starboard when passing another vessel. One barge collided with rocks and sank, while the other came loose from its tow and drifted downstream before capsizing. It dumped its cargo of crushed stone in the river and grounded on the bank. No one was injured.

Safety Regulations

The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for enforcing statutory safety provisions and OSHA regulations for towing vessel safety. Tugs are required to be fitted with the following safety equipment:

  • Magnetic compass
  • Current charts and navigational publications
  • Marine radar
  • Searchlight
  • VHF-FM radio
  • Echo depth sounding device for work on inland waterways
  • GPS or similar positioning device for work on the Great Lakes or more than three miles offshore

Tug operators must ensure that facing wires, spring lines and push gear are appropriately sized for the length of tow and the vessel’s horsepower. They must frequently be inspected.

The following equipment must be maintained and tested before each voyage of more than 24 hours:

  • Navigation equipment
  • Steering system
  • Propulsion system
  • Communications equipment
  • Lights for navigation and towing
  • Terminal gear

All tugs are required to keep a detailed log of maintenance work and repairs carried out on the vessel.

Statutory Protections for Tugboat and Barge Crews

The work on board a tug is dangerous and demanding. Apart from facing the challenge of working in harsh weather conditions, tug crews are at risk of injury or death from collisions with larger vessels or taut tow lines and cables that are extremely dangerous if they snap. Barge crews are no less vulnerable to injury, especially when transporting hazardous cargo, or cargo that may shift in transit and cause crush injuries.

Tug and boat crew are protected by the provisions of the Jones Act. Under this statute, they can claim compensation for injury. If an accident causes the death of a crew member, the worker’s dependent family members can claim compensation.

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