Within the U.S. Coast Guard Eighth District alone, marine casualty data indicates that over the past 12 years, 44 recreational vessels have struck (allided) moored barges within barge fleets, resulting in 26 fatalities and 44 injuries.

These serious incidents involving barges highlight the critical need for barge operators to properly display navigation lights in accordance with the Inland Navigation Rules. As with all marine casualty investigations, the Coast Guard seeks to identify the specific causal factors involved in each incident, including whether the involved barge fleets are sufficiently lit. The Coast Guard would like to take this opportunity to remind barge operators of their obligation to meet current barge lighting regulations.

Furthermore, these tragic casualties are a strong warning to recreational boaters of the dangers associated with operating near and around barge fleets.

In July 2014, the Coast Guard published changes to the Inland Navigation Rules. This included amending Rule 30 “Vessels anchored, aground, and moored barges” to incorporate barge lighting requirements previously located in other regulations, including requirements for an unobstructed white light of sufficient intensity to be visible for at least 1 nautical mile.

The Coast Guard urges owners and operators of barge fleets to complete the following actions:

• Review fleet lighting procedures to ensure that barges are sufficiently lit and operated in accordance with the Inland Navigation Rules1, including technical requirements as prescribed in Annex I, as well as any applicable area-specific regulations in 33 CFR Parts 162 and 165. 2
• Ensure that barge fleets remain in compliance with permits issued by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pursuant to 33 CFR Parts 320 through 332, and/or regional issuing authorities.

The Coast Guard also strongly recommends that owners and operators of all vessels, including recreational vessels, remain extra vigilant when operating boats during nighttime hours, times of reduced visibility, or when strong currents exist and when other navigational challenges posed by barge fleets are present.

Recent casualties involving explosions aboard barges conducting tank cleaning operations alongside marine terminals have resulted in serious injuries to vessel crews and facility workers, catastrophic property damage, as well as harm to the environment. A review of related casualties has revealed that vessel personnel, facility personnel and shore side managers failed to ensure that established procedures and safe practices were followed. Specifically, the Operational Manuals and regulatory requirements were not routinely followed by those involved. As a result unintended and disastrous consequences occurred.

This safety alert aims to raise awareness regarding this issue and highlight critical lessons learned from these incidents. Facility and vessel managers and operators, both ashore and afloat, responsible for the oversight of, or specifically involved in tank cleaning, stripping or gas freeing of flammable cargoes, should take note and ensure the widest distribution to all personnel.

Title 33 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 154 – Facilities Transferring Oil or Hazardous Material in Bulk; requires facilities to submit for approval to the Captain of the Port (COTP), an Operations Manual that provides facility details, types of cargos handled, duties/knowledge requirements of specific personnel, locations of emergency shutdowns, descriptions of tank cleaning procedures, emergency procedures, and other requirements for each type of cargo evolution, tank cleaning, and vapor control processes. For facilities that conduct tank cleaning, stripping, or gas freeing operations on tank vessels, the Operations Manual must contain a description of their procedures that are consistent with the International Safety Guide for Oil Tankers and Terminals (ISGOTT). Specific sections of the Fifth edition are referenced in 33 CFR Part 154.

The most common causal factor associated with these tank barge explosions is that the Person in Charge (PIC) of the facility and/or tank barge failed to follow key Operating Manual procedures.

As a result of these casualties the Coast Guard strongly recommends that facility and vessel managers, operators and PIC’s performing tank cleaning, stripping, or gas freeing of flammable cargos on board any vessel review ISGOTT Fifth edition and fully comply with all related regulations and Operating Manuals while also ensuring (among many other items):

• Operations Manual is complete and meets regulatory requirements
• Facility personnel training programs meet regulatory requirements
• Facility PIC is designated and properly trained
• Barge PIC holds a required valid USCG Merchant Mariner’s Credential with a Tankerman-PIC endorsement
• Barge or vessel is properly grounded by a bonding wire or other approved method prior to transfer of cargo or slops
• Spark producing tools and machinery are removed from the involved barge or vessel and immediate vicinity
• Portable fans or blowers used to ventilate tanks are intrinsically safe and properly grounded
• Minimizing the operation of other vessels near the facility during tank cleaning or gas freeing operations to reduce potential vapor ignition sources
• Operating manual procedures for dropping / draining and cleaning of cargo lines and piping and tank cleaning are strictly followed
• During tank cleaning (washing) and gas-freeing operations, consistent with ISGOTT Ch 11.3, conduct water flushing of the tank bottom and piping systems while monitoring the Lower Flammable Limit (LEL) prior to commencing forced ventilating
• A Certified Marine Chemist certifies tanks as "Safe for Workers," "Safe for Hotwork" before personnel enter that tank or conduct hot work

Facility and vessel operators may submit a written request for the COTP to consider alternative procedures, methods, or equipment standards than those established within the ISGOTT or regulations. The COTP will evaluate any proposed alternative to ensure it provides an equivalent level of safety and pollution protection as required by the regulations.