Tug mate in duck boat accident to plead guilty

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 been set.

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.


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