The mate piloting a tug involved in
a fatal duck boat accident has agreed to plead guilty to involuntary
manslaughter and agreed to the permanent revocation of his Coast Guard license,
federal prosecutors said Thursday.
Matthew Devlin, 35, of Catskill,
N.Y., who investigators said was on his cell phone and a laptop computer
dealing with a family crisis at the time of the July 7, 2010, accident on the
Delaware River in Philadelphia, could be sentenced to up to 46 months in jail.
The maximum penalty is 10 years, according to court documents. No hearing has
The mate was in the lower instead of the upper
wheelhouse of K-Sea Transportation Partners’ 2,400-hp tug Caribbean Sea, which
pushed the 250’ sludge barge The Resource into the tour boat. Two passengers on
the tour boat were killed.
“Devlin could readily have decided
to focus on his responsibilities instead, or asked the captain to relieve him
of the watch, but instead he proceeded to violate numerous rules of seamanship
and essentially drive blind in the direction of the stranded duck boat,” U.S.
attorney’s office filings said.
DUKW 34, owned and operated by Ride
The Ducks, had anchored in the navigation channel after the captain observed
smoke coming from an air vent. The National Transportation Safety Board found
no evidence of a fire and concluded that the smoke may have been steam escaping
because of a missing surge tank pressure cap.
When the collision occurred, the tug
captain and a deckhand were asleep, and the other deckhand and engineer were in
the galley, documents said. “Neither had been asked to serve as a lookout, and
neither knew of the collision until they suddenly felt the tug slow, looked
outside and saw people in the water,” according to the filing.
The plea agreement comes just weeks
after the NTSB blamed the collision on the mate’s failure to keep a proper
lookout. The NTSB board chairman said the accident “is yet another tragic
example of the deadliness of distractions.”
“K-Sea clearly barred the use of a
personal cell phone while on watch, and Devlin admits that he was aware of this
prohibition,” court papers said.
One of the deckhands on the Caribbean Sea later
told the NTSB, that everyone knew that they were not allowed to use cell phones
while on watch.
Devlin had “no prior adverse
incidents with K-Sea. He was considered a solid employee,” the documents said. Devlin’s attorney could not be
reached for comment.