Collision between Cooperative Spirit Tow and RC Creppel Tow​

Investigation Details

What Happened

​​On January 26, 2020, the towing vessel Cooperative Spirit was pushing 40 barges upbound on the Lower Mississippi River, and the towing vessel RC Creppel was pushing two barges downbound when the two tows collided at mile 123, near Destrehan, Louisiana. The RC Creppel capsized as a result of the collision. Minutes later, the upbound dry bulk carrier Glory First made contact with the starboard side of the Cooperative Spirit’s tow. All 42 barges from both tows broke free and were later recovered. One of the four RC Creppel crewmembers was rescued; the remaining three were never recovered and are presumed dead. The accident resulted in the release of about 8,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the river and sulfuric acid vapors into the atmosphere, and an estimated $3,781,126 in property damage to the 3 vessels and 11 barges.

What We Found

​​the probable cause of the collision of the Cooperative Spirit and RC Creppel tows was the two pilots’ insufficient radio communication before meeting in a bend and not broadcasting accurate AIS information regarding tow size.​

Lessons Learned

​​Communication When Meeting in a Bend

When meeting or overtaking a vessel in a bend, especially where high-water conditions can increase the risk of a collision, early and effective communication is critical to ensuring a successful meeting. The use of VHF radio can help to dispel assumptions and provide bridge teams and towing vessel operators with the information needed to better assess each vessel’s intentions.

Updating the Overall Dimensions of a Tow in AIS

​The NTSB has previously noted the importance of ensuring that vessels engaged in towing operations broadcast accurate AIS information regarding tow size. The overall dimensions of a vessel and its tow may change significantly with each transit. For vessels towing ahead or alongside, the dimensions in AIS should reflect the overall rectangular area of the vessel and its tow. Consistently entering the complete dimensions of a tow configuration into AIS for each transit helps to alleviate possible misinterpretation and thus enhances the situational awareness of all waterway users.