An account of an unsafe towing practice observed aboard a harbour tug assisting a container vessel during a port manoeuvring operation.
What the Reporter told us:
The photograph shows a tug engaged in towing operations assisting a large container vessel during departure. Despite many incidents in the towing industry where watertight integrity has been the cause of numerous accidents and deaths of tug crews, the crew of this tug failed to exercise proper controls to close and secure the watertight door to the accommodation.
The warnings, training and instructions contained in the tug owner’s safety manual are clear and were understood by all. Unfortunately, on this occasion those warnings, training and instructions were not complied with.
A tug towing with an open watertight door – highlighting the risk of flooding.
CHIRP learned from the reporter that his initial attempts to alert the towing company to this near miss incident had been ignored and his concerns dismissed. However, he felt strongly enough about the issue to submit a report to CHIRP.
CHIRP subsequently contacted the DPA who readily engaged with us and confirmed that the photograph did regrettably confirm the report, and that the aft accommodation watertight door may have been open without cause. This was indeed contrary to the company’s safety procedures and industry best practice.
The issue was subsequently raised locally for action and a safety flash was promulgated by the company reminding all tug personnel of the importance of maintaining watertight integrity.
Tugs are particularly vulnerable to flooding through any watertight openings that might be open. This is due, in part, to the external forces being applied when towing. Obviously, anyone working in the engine room or below decks is at maximum risk in the event of flooding. The inherent reserve buoyancy of a tug is based on all the watertight doors being closed. Over-familiarity and complacency are insidious and are always waiting to catch the unwary.
It is appreciated that tugs operate with a small crew, but the question was asked if the SMS needs to be re-examined in case crew members have to multi-task and move frequently through the watertight door. The best SMS in the world is only as good as the people who operate it. The end users need to be positively encouraged to take ownership of the SMS and not view it as something imposed from above.
Re-examination of the SMS to see if it is fit for purpose applies to all commercial vessels. Too often the SMS is produced by the office ashore and put onto the ship with minimal input from the seafarers onboard who have to operate the ship whilst complying with the requirements of the system.