The Hocke Net

1.19.12 - Ken Hocke Blog photo Drugs and alcohol in the wheelhouse

January 15, 2013

Growing up in New Orleans, it was not unusual to occasionally hear about a barge tow plowing into one of several bridges over the Mississippi River between the Crescent City and Baton Rouge. Too often, when the smoke cleared, we learned that there was alcohol in the system of the person at the helm of the towboat involved in the allision.

Having generations of family members who worked on the river has provided me with more insight into how much alcohol was a part of that culture.

The U.S. Coast Guard, industry officials, and others have made a real effort to change that culture over the last two decades, and those efforts are paying off. (I think the straw that broke the camel’s back was the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989. The captain of the Valdez had been drinking.)

We just finished up the February issue of WorkBoat. The News Log section of the magazine contains articles about the grounding of the Arctic-class oil rig Kulluk in Alaskan waters, the allision between the ferry Seastreak Wall Street and Pier 11 in lower Manhattan, a not-so-friendly meeting of the 750' tanker Overseas Reymar and the Bay Bridge in San Francisco Bay, and litigation involving Foss Maritime and the state of Kentucky over last year’s allision between Foss’s 312' Delta Mariner and the Eggners Ferry Bridge.

Alcohol testing was performed on the principals involved after each of these accidents occurred. No alcohol was found to be a factor in any of them. (Drug testing takes longer and not all of the tests are in as yet.) Still, this is a major win for the industry. Yes, accidents happen. Yes, people make poor decisions. That’s life. But taking alcohol and drugs out of the mix makes the whole industry a safer place to work.   

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