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Board Meeting - Marine Accident Report - Collision between barge and DUKW boat, Delaware River, Philadelphia, PA, July 7, 2010 - Chairman's Opening and Closing Remarks
Deborah A. P. Hersman
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Marine Accident Report - Collision between barge and DUKW boat, Delaware River, Philadelphia, PA, July 7, 2010, Washington, DC

Good morning. Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board.  I am Debbie Hersman, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.  Joining me are my fellow Board members: Vice Chairman Chris Hart, Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind, and Member Earl Weener. Today we meet in open session, as required by the Government in Sunshine Act, to consider the July 7, 2010, collision of a tugboat/barge with an amphibious passenger vehicle, or APV, on the Delaware River just outside Philadelphia.

On behalf of my fellow Board members and the entire NTSB staff, I offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the two young people who lost their lives in this accident and to the dozens who were injured.  We recognize that your lives were forever changed when the crash occurred, and we know that nothing can replace the loss of your loved one or repair the trauma of a life-changing injury.

It is especially sad that the two passengers who did not survive were exchange students from Hungary visiting to learn about the United States.

We now have the opportunity — and the obligation — to take every step possible to ensure that the lessons of this tragedy are well-learned and that the circumstances are not repeated.

Over the past several weeks, the Board Members have read the proposed report and individually met with NTSB staff to discuss the draft.  Today, however, is the first time that all of the Board Members are meeting together to discuss it.

Staff will make presentations on the major issues of the accident investigation. The presentations will be followed by questions from the Board Members. We will then consider the conclusions, probable cause, and safety recommendations. Because these are the Board's actual deliberations on the report, it may be revised as a result of actions taken during this meeting.  Approximately 30 minutes after we conclude, an abstract of this report will be posted on the NTSB's website.

I'd like to recognize the groups that responded to the accident; in particular, the efforts of the crew of the ferry Freedom, the U.S. Navy Special Boat Team 20, the Philadelphia Marine Police, and the United States Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay.

I also want to recognize Member Robert Sumwalt, who was the Board member on scene, for serving as spokesman for the investigation, and commend the staff of our Office of Marine Safety, who completed the report in under one year.

This accident involved a 250-foot-long sludge barge, The Resource, which was being towed alongside the tugboat Caribbean Sea operated by K-Sea Transportation. The barge collided with DUKW 34, or D-U-K-W 34, a 33-foot amphibious passenger vehicle.

Let me explain D-U-K-W.  These vehicles are commonly referred to as “ducks.” The acronym comes from the manufacturer’s nomenclature. The “D” indicates the first year of manufacture. The “U” means utility vehicle. “K” refers to all-wheel drive. And “W” indicates a rear tandem axle.  DUKW production began in World War II for use by the military. More than 21,000 would eventually be manufactured.  Today, there are over 115 Coast Guard-certificated ‘ducks” in operation used primarily as tourist vehicles.

This accident is yet another tragic example of the deadliness of distractions. The NTSB has investigated too many highway, railroad, and aviation accidents and incidents – and seen too much loss of life – where distraction was the cause or a key contributing factor.

Even though K-Sea Transportation had a company policy that prohibited the use of personal cell phones while on watch, the policy was not followed.  The cell phone records of the mate that was operating the Caribbean Sea, with its tow, The Resource, show that for two hours and ten minutes — between 12:22 p.m. — just after the mate assumed the navigation watch, and 2:32 p.m. – five minutes before the collision – the mate made 15 outgoing calls and received six incoming calls, and simultaneously conducted internet searches on the company laptop computer … while he was responsible for navigating the tugboat and barge.

It was only after the accident that the mate told a K-Sea Transportation official that his attention had been consumed with a serious family emergency. Had he made his situation known, he would likely have been granted relief from the watch by the master aboard the vessel or by the company. 

In addition to the mate of the Caribbean Sea, the deckhand of the DUKW 34 was also using his cell phone while on duty sending and receiving several text messages while standing on the bow of the vessel after they had anchored in the channel.  One of those text messages was sent about one minute before the collision.

Even with company policies, widespread public education campaigns and, in some places, laws to minimize distractions like cell phone use, many people continue to think, “It’s just going to take a moment, I’ll make this quick call or I’ll send a brief text message.”

How do we change this mindset. It’s not acceptable to multi-task while operating a vehicle – whether it’s calling, texting, or accessing the internet — whether operating in the air, or on a highway, railway, or waterway.

Today’s electronic age has made people accustomed to being connected 24/7.  We must find a way to change the culture of distraction we see across transportation because, frankly, the distractions are only going to get worse.

Today, we will hear about the evidence and facts collected over the past eleven months to determine what happened on the Delaware River last July 7.  While it’s difficult to make sense of this tragedy, it’s never too late to learn from it and to implement common-sense solutions to prevent it from happening again.

Dr. Mayer, will you please introduce the staff.