Last summer’s fatal duck boat
accident on the Delaware River in Philadelphia “is yet another tragic example
of the deadliness of distractions,” National Transportation Safety Board
chairman Deborah Hersman said Tuesday after a final report showed crewmembers
of two vessels involved were on cell phones or computers.
The agency also blamed the
July 7 collision on the failure of the tugboat mate to keep a proper lookout
because he was in the lower rather than the upper wheelhouse, and they said
mistakes by tour boat maintenance employees and crew contributed to the
Two people were killed when
Ride The Ducks DUKW 34 was struck by
the bow of the city of Philadelphia’s 250’ sludge barge The Resource being towed by K-Sea Transportation Partners’
2,400-hp tug Caribbean Sea. The duck boat anchored in the navigation
channel after the captain saw smoke coming from an air vent. The NTSB found no
evidence of a fire and concluded that the smoke may have been steam escaping
because of a missing surge tank pressure cap.
The mate on watch on the tug was
dealing with a family crisis on his cell phone and on a laptop at the time of
the accident, the NTSB said. The agency found that distress calls from the duck
boat and others went unanswered by the barge tow. The mate has invoked his
Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.
Both vessel companies had
safety management systems in place, and while the agency made recommendations
for improvements in procedures, board members focused much of the hearing on
the dangers of electronic devices.
“When do we say this is a
problem? We have got to change the culture,” said Hersman. “How many more lives
do we have to lose before we say you can’t do this any more.” She concluded the
meeting by urging the Coast Guard to increase its focus on cell phone use by
Last year, the NTSB recommended
that the Coast Guard adopt a policy for the use of cell phones and other
wireless devices on board its vessels, and encourage the maritime industry to
voluntarily develop cell phone policies. The Coast Guard subsequently put out
such an advisory.
The NTSB Tuesday also
concluded that Ride The Ducks maintenance workers “failed to ensure that the
surge tank pressure cap was securely in place before allowing the vehicle to
enter passenger service.” In addition, the tour boat’s master did not “appropriately
respond to the risk of a collision … once he had shut down the vessel’s engine
and anchored in the navigable channel,” the NTSB said. And, the deckhand’s use
of his cell phone to send text messages while on the bow “distracted him from
effectively performing his duty as a lookout.”
The agency recommended that
K-Sea and Ride The Ducks “develop improved means to ensure that the company’s
safety and emergency procedures are understood, and adhered to by employees in
Ride The Ducks resumed
operations in the spring with a number of new procedures including: operating
in a smaller area on the water; staying onshore if a large commercial vessel is
within one half nautical mile; having a response boat with twin 135-hp motors
readily available; and Automated Identification Systems (AIS) on all vessels.
“Working with the Coast
Guard, we will maintain and continue to improve our safety culture,” said Chris
Herschend, president of Ride The Ducks, headquartered in Norcross, Ga.
K-Sea said it was reviewing
the board’s report and may submit a response for the official record. The East
Brunswick, N.J., tug and barge operator also said it is “committed
to continually improving the safety of our operations,’’ but could not comment
further because of pending litigation.
A synopsis of the report is
available at: http://www.ntsb.gov/events/2011/Philadelphia-PA/synopsis.htm.The
complete report is expected on the site in several weeks.