Jun 212011

A Ride the Duck DUKW in Seattle, similar to the amphibious vessel which sank in the Delaware

More attention should be paid to the possible involvement of cellphones as a contributor to maritime accidents says the US National Transportation Safety Board as it releases the results of its investigation into the collision between an anchored DUKW 34 and a tug-towed barge on the Delaware river with the loss of two lives. Implicit in the report is the importance of seafarers understanding how personal stresses create distraction and poor decision making.

In this case, the mate of the tug Caribbean Sea, which was towing the sludge barge The Resource, was attempting to deal with a family medical emergency using a cellphone and a company laptop, contrary to company policy. He was situated in the lower wheelhouse of the tug, with restricted visibility. He could not, therefore, keep a proper lookout or effectively monitor the radio.

Says the NTSB: “Had the mate of the Caribbean Sea informed the master or K-Sea Transportation management of the serious family medical emergency, he would likely have been granted relief from the watch”.

However, a proper lookout was also absent from the Ride The Ducks International’s DUKW 34 because the deckhand on the bow was texting on his cellphone.

The seeds of the incident were planted when mechanics for the DUKW-34 did not check that the surge tank pressure cap was securely in place before it went into service. The missing pressure cap allowed the engine coolant to boil and create steam that entered the passenger compartment and prompted the master to shut down the engine because he believed he had an onboard fire.

He anchored the DUKW-34 in the navigable channel but, says the report, “…did not fully appreciate or appropriately respond to the risk of a collision that faced DUKW 34 and its occupants once he had shut down the vessel’s engine…”.


“This is yet another example of the deadliness of distractions,” says NTSB chairman Deborah A. P. Hersman. “Distraction is a safety concern across all modes of transportation. Regardless of the reason, it’s not okay to multi-task while operating a vehicle – whether it’s calling, texting, or surfing the web.”

A synopsis of the NTSB report, including the probable cause, findings, and safety recommendations, is available here.

The full report will be available on the website in several weeks.

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