Category Archives: Towing Vessels

Proceedings: Improving Mariner Situational Awareness

The Summer 2015 issue of the Coast Guard publication Proceedings is now available at this link. This issue is titled “Improving Mariner Situational Awareness” and addresses the growing role of technology on the bridge of a vessel and the various skill levels found on the many types of vessels found on our nation’s waterways. This publication will provide you with insights into the Coast Guard’s vision for improving navigational safety in the United States.

Towing vessel sinks on lower Mississippi River – one missing

The towing vessel MISS NATALIE sank near mile marker 163 on the lower Mississippi River at approximately 8:00 a.m. on May 30 with 5 individuals on board.  Four of the crewmembers were picked up by a good samaritan.  One crewmember was missing.  The Coast Guard has now suspended the search.

The Coast Guard deployed 2 helicopters and a 45 foot response boat to conduct the search along with a response vessel from the port of South Louisianna.

The Coast Guard press releases indicated that the name of the vessel was the UTV MISS NATALIE.  “UTV” stands for “Uninspected Towing Vessel”. Section 415 of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2004 requires all towing vessels to be inspected by the Coast Guard to ensure that the vessel is in compliance with all regulations pertaining to the design and construction of the vessel. Specificatlly, section 3306 of title 46, United States Code states that:

“the Secretary shall prescribe necessary regulations to ensure the proper execution of, and to carry out, this part in the most effective manner for …the design, construction, alteration, repair, and operation of those vessels, including superstructures, hulls, fittings, equipment, appliances, propulsion machinery, auxiliary machinery, boilers, unfired pressure vessels, piping, electric installations…”

 The Coast Guard has been attempting to prescribe these regulations for the past 11 years. Until these regulations are prescribed, casualties such as this will continue and the Coast Guard will spend resources on response instead of prevention.


Fatigue leads to human error. Every transportation mode, aviation, trucking, railroads, and maritime, have laws and regulations dealing with how many hours of rest an individual must have before continuing with their job.  Scientific studies indicate that the human body needs 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep to ensure that an individual is rested sufficiently to carry out their job. In the maritime industry, watches were developed to help address these issues long before science quantified these requirements.  However, today individuals on vessels typically have to fill out paperwork and file reports when they are not “on watch” – taking away from the hours in which they can sleep.

The International Maritime Organization developed standards that shipowners must comply with when scheduling their personnel.  The Japanese MOU just issued a study based on their enforcement of these IMO requirements.  Between September 1, 2014 and November 30, 2014 Japan conducted 6,392 inspections in which they had a questionnaire for the crew to examine hours of rest.  They found that there were 1,589 deficiencies where the crew did not comply with IMO requirements. Some of these may have been failure to keep track of the hours that mariners were working.  During that time 16 ships were detained because the violations were serious.

The Japanese press release stated “Analysis of the recorded deficiencies shows that most deficiencies relate to hours of rest not being recorded correctly in 997 cases (63%), vessel manning not in accordance with the minimum safe manning document 241(15%) and shipboard working arrangements 232 (15%).”

There are similar concerns about hours of rest in the U.S. domestic fleet. Section 8904(c) of title 46, United States Code, authorizes the Coast Guard to establish maximum hours of service on towing vessels. This provision was enacted in 2004 but the Coast Guard has not yet established those standards.

The Japan MOU press release on this study can be found at this link.

Fire on board towing vessel in West Virginia

Two crewmen were injured when a fire broke out on their towing vessel in the middle of the Ohio River near Wheeling, WV. It is unclear what caused the fire.

The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2004 required all towing vessels to be subject to safety inspection by the Coast Guard. However, the Coast Guard has not yet prescribed those standards within the past decade – so preventable casualties continue. In the meantime, the Coast Guard conducts examinations to ensure compliance with the minimal requirements required until the regulations are published.

The Martins Time Leader story is at this link.

Coast Guard investigation of barge / recreational boat collision in Michigan

The Coast Guard is investigating the casualty and death of a recreational boater who died on Monday when the fishing boat he was in was run over by a barge pushed by a towing vessel.  The engine of the boater had died and he and a companion were trying to get it restarted so that they could get out of the way of the barge.  The captain of the towing vessel has said he was unaware that the collision had even occurred. Police have said that an individual had called 911 to report seeing the boat floating upside-down in the water. The Coast Guard investigation will determine whether the barge should have had a lookout posted.  The Detroit News story is at this link.

Safer Seas 2014

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has published their annual report, Safer Seas 2014. This report is a compilation of their marine casualty investigation reports for 2014 – which covers all types of vessels from fishing and towing vessels to tankers and tall ships.  The report can be found at this link.