NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs


NTSB URGES NEW COAST GUARD RULES FOR TOWING
INDUSTRY TO PREVENT MAJOR POLLUTION FROM SPILLS

July 14, 1998

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The National Transportation Safety Board today urged the United States Coast Guard to develop regulations for tug-barge systems that provide a level of safety against marine pollution equivalent to that provided now for tankers.

The recommendation was one of 20 issued as a result of the NTSB's investigation of the grounding of the tug Scandia and its barge North Cape in 1996 that resulted in the worst instance of marine pollution in the history of Rhode Island.

On January 19, 1996, the Scandia suffered an engine room fire and had to be abandoned, which led to the subsequent grounding of the tug and the barge it was towing to Providence, Rhode Island. The barge grounded on the rocks of Nebraska Shoal, off Moonstone Beach, releasing about 828,000 gallons of its 4 million gallon load of home heating oil. After the fire was detected, the crew was unable to extinguish it, and, despite worsening seas, the Coast Guard successfully rescued the six-man crew without injury. A Coast Guardsman suffered hypothermia during the rescue. Damage to the two vessels was estimated at over $6 million.

The Board concluded that rough seas might have caused a container of flammable lubricant to fall onto a part of the engine manifold that had loose insulation, where the lubricant ignited on contact; however, the cause of the fire could not precisely be determined.

According to estimates by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the oil killed millions of lobsters, harmed over a million pounds of shellfish, and affected thousands of pounds of fish in Block Island Sound and Rhode Island salt ponds. Study teams estimated that it would take one to five years for the affected fish and bird populations to recover. Potential claims from the State of Rhode Island related to the natural resource damage are estimated by the Coast Guard to be $45 million. However, the total scope of damage is still being assessed.

Toxicological tests on all of the Scandia's crew were negative for alcohol and other drugs.

The 112-foot-long, 198-gross-ton tug, built in 1968, was operated by the Eklof Marine Corporation (EMC) of Staten Island, New York. The unmanned barge, the North Cape, was built in 1978. It was 340 feet long, 70 feet wide and 28 feet deep, and was admeasured at 5,506 gross tons.

The Board determined that the accident resulted from EMC's inadequate oversight of maintenance and operations aboard those vessels, which permitted the fire to become catastrophic and eliminated any realistic possibility of arresting the subsequent drift and grounding of the barge. Contributing to the accident, the Board said, was the lack of adequate Coast Guard and industry standards addressing towing vessel safety.

The Board said that EMC did not have a planned maintenance program (in fact, the company did not have a policy of keeping records of repairs, and had no record of repairs on the Scandia, except for receipts of some repairs done by subcontractors). "The EMC's practice of making repairs only after serious breakdowns had already occurred," the Board stated, "rather than taking a preventive maintenance approach, and its poor oversight of maintenance resulted in a reduction of the Scandia's safety." Besides the loose insulation on the manifold, the Safety Board noted that the vessel's fire pump had corroded to the point where it had holes the size of quarters, some fire hoses had mismatched hose threads, and emergency escape hatches were sealed shut.

There are about 5,200 towing vessels in the United States constituting, after fishing vessels, the largest segment of the U.S. commercial vessel industry. About two thirds of these vessels are involved in the transportation of hazardous materials and petroleum products. The vessels push or tow 30,000 barges along the U.S. coasts, inland waterways, rivers, harbors, bays and the Great Lakes.

In 1995, the International Maritime Organization adopted standards providing guidance to shipping companies for exercising oversight of operations and maintenance of oil tankers in international trade. However, no comparable guidance applies to tug-barges involved in domestic oil transportation. Therefore, the Safety Board said that the Coast Guard and the American Waterways Operators (AWO) - the national trade association for the inland and coastal barge and towing industry - should cooperate to develop an effective safety management code to ensure adequate management oversight of the maintenance and operation of vessels involved in oil transportation by barges.

Among the 14 recommendations directed to the Coast Guard are one to require self-contained breathing apparatus and firesuits aboard all towing vessels, another to require that fire pumps on towing vessels be operable from outside the engine room, and several aimed at improving search and rescue operations.

Three recommendations were directed to EMC, the vessels' operator, including one to develop a better maintenance management program and another to develop better voyage planning procedures.

Finally, the Board issued three recommendations to AWO, including one calling for the development of an effective safety management code for its members.

The Safety Board's complete printed report, PB98-916403, will be available from the National Technical Information Service, 5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, Virginia 22161; (703) 487-4650. The report is also available on the Board's web page, www.ntsb.gov.

 

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.