On Friday afternoon, January 19, 1996, the U.S. tug Scandia had an engineroom fire while towing the unmanned U.S. tank barge North Cape, 4.5 miles off Point Judith, Rhode Island. All six crewmembers abandoned the Scandia amid 10-foot waves and 25-knot winds; however, no one was injured. The crew was unsuccessful in its attempts to release the anchor of the barge, which ran aground and spilled 828,000 gallons of home heating oil, causing the largest pollution incident in Rhode Island's history, an incident that led to the closing of local fisheries.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the fire damage aboard the tug Scandia and the subsequent grounding of and pollution from the barge North Cape was the Eklof Marine Corporation's inadequate oversight of maintenance and operations aboard those vessels, which permitted a fire of unknown origin to become catastrophic and eliminated any realistic possibility of arresting the subsequent drift and grounding of the barge. Contributing to the accident was the lack of adequate U.S. Coast Guard and industry standards addressing towing vessel safety.
In its investigation, the Safety Board identified the following safety issues:
- Origin and cause of fire.
- Company oversight of vessel maintenance.
- Risk assessment:
Search and rescue:
- Weather and voyage planning.
- Barge retrieval systems.
- Anchors on unmanned barges.
- Fire safety of towing vessels.
Environmental pollution and cleanup.
- Deployment of Coast Guard rescue boat.
- Hypothermia protective clothing.
- Decision to return to barge to drop its anchor.
As a result of its investigation of this accident, the Safety Board makes recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard, the Eklof Marine Corporation, and the American Waterways Operators, Inc.
As a result of this accident, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following safety recommendations:
To the U.S. Coast Guard:
Conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to develop risk mitigation regulations for tug-barge systems that provide a level of safety against marine pollution equivalent to that provided by regulations for tankers. (M-98-103)
In conjunction with the towing vessel industry, develop and implement an effective safety management code to ensure adequate management oversight of the maintenance and operation of vessels involved in oil transportation by barges. (M-98-104)
Require towing vessel companies to develop and implement procedures whereby management officials communicate with ship captains at sea in times of potential or actual emergencies and during safety-critical periods of a voyage. (M-98-105)
In conjunction with the towing vessel industry, develop and implement requirements for voyage planning standards and checklists for towing vessel companies to ensure that adequate risk reduction measures are taken before starting a voyage, including an assessment of weather risks, of the adequacy of the vessel's equipment, and of operational precautions. (M-98-106)
In conjunction with the towing vessel industry in the northeastern United States, institute a pilot project to evaluate the benefits of using an organized tug-assistance system to complement the proposed barge retrieval system or, if appropriate, develop and implement an alternative system to ensure barge retrieval if a tug becomes incapable of performing that function. (M-98-107)
In conjunction with the towing vessel industry, develop modern remote anchor release devices for barges in emergencies that do not expose crewmen to unnecessary risk, and require their utilization. (M-98-108)
Require self-contained breathing apparatus and firesuits aboard all towing vessels, as well as training in their use. (M-98-109)
Require approved fixed firefighting systems in the enginerooms of existing towing vessels. (M-98-110)
Require that fire pumps on towing vessels also be operable from outside the engineroom. (M-98-111)
Require that towing vessels have muster lists, drills on the use of selfcontained breathing apparatus and fireman's outfits, and safety orientations to familiarize crewmembers with their vessel before sailing. (M-98-112)
Require vessel owners to keep detailed, signed logs of all on-board drills to assist the Coast Guard in its spot checks. (M-98-113)
Require Coast Guard station search and rescue personnel to conduct a mandatory pre-deployment briefing for all search and rescue missions to ensure that the on-scene weather and sea conditions are assessed accurately so that the proper rescue boat is selected. (M-98-114)
Establish and implement procedures to require a pre-designated swimmer to don suitable thermal protective clothing before launching in a small boat on a search and rescue mission in cold water. (M-98-115)
Develop and implement risk assessment guidelines for the deployment of surface search and rescue units similar to the guidelines published in Coast Guard Commandant's Instruction 3710. (M-98-116)
To Eklof Marine Corporation:
Develop and implement an effective management oversight program that provides maintenance managers with enough information to track maintenance trends and to make informed maintenance decisions that will ensure the safety of the company's fleet and crews. (M-98-117)
Develop and implement procedures whereby designated management officials communicate with ship captains at sea in times of potential or actual emergencies and during safety-critical periods of a voyage. (M-98-118)
Develop and implement voyage planning procedures and checklists for your towing vessels to ensure that adequate risk reduction measures are taken before starting a voyage, including an assessment of weather risks, of the adequacy of the vessel's equipment, and of operational precautions. (M-98-119)
To American Waterways Operators, Inc.:
Develop an effective safety management code for your member companies to implement to ensure adequate management oversight of the maintenance and operation of vessels involved in oil transportation by barges. (M-98-120)
Encourage your member towing vessel companies to develop and implement voyage planning standards and checklists to ensure that adequate risk reduction measures are taken before starting a voyage, including an assessment of weather risks, of the adequacy of the vessel's equipment, and of the operational precautions. (M-99-121)
In cooperation with the Coast Guard, develop a means of releasing anchors on unmanned towed barges by remote control from the towing vessel. (M-98-122)