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Cell phone use cited in fatal duck boat accident
Mate has invokes Fifth Amendment right to remain silent


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 accident.

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 mariners.

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 safety-critical positions.”

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: complete report is expected on the site in several weeks. 

6/24/2011 2:53:07 PM Testfirstname Testlastname says:

This is a test comment.
6/23/2011 4:52:18 PM George Sloane says:

The real problem here is not the technology, it's the users NOT PAYING ATTENTION. Why is the distraction from a personal cel-phone any different than 3 VHF radios, 1 on ch 13, 1 on ch16, one on company channel, ALL squawking at once with the BoatTracs calling for your attention as well as the company dispatch calling on the company cel-phone with an update. All of this usually happens when docking is demanding your full attention. Distraction are a BIG problem, but banning things won't help. Paying attention will.



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