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Houston Ship Channel maritime accident probed at hearing

Piloting a commercial vessel on the water can be complicated by several factors. If something goes wrong, there can be a collision that causes serious injury to workers aboard one of the boats.

Fortunately, a crash between a barge and a cargo freighter in March did not result in any work injuries. However, it did cause a large oil spill of 170,000 gallons into the Gulf of Mexico. The incident led to a hearing called by federal officials in early June.

The captains of both vessels involved in the crash testified at the hearing. One of the captains was operating a tugboat that was pushing two barges across the Houston Ship Channel. That captain has more than 30 years of experience. She was aware of a cargo freighter crossing her path at 10 knots, but believed that she would make it across safely.

But then the freighter increased its speed to 12 or 13 knots. Concerned, the tugboat captain radioed the freighter. She later recalled that the pilot told her that it was too late to slow down, because “it wouldn’t have done no good” as far as avoiding a crash was concerned. At the hearing, the pilot testified that strong currents forced him to increase his speed to keep maneuverability. Slowing down would have taken away his ability to steer, he said.

The tugboat captain said she did everything possible to avoid the collision, but could not do so. There was a heavy fog, and the freighter emerged less than eight-tenths of a mile away. The freighter pilot tried to stop, but it was too late.

Though there were no injuries in this case, this is the sort of incident that could cause serious harm to maritime workers in the Gulf of Mexico. Workers who get hurt at work in this way may deserve compensation under the Jones Act.

Source: The Associated Press, “Tug captain in Houston collision says other vessel’s pilot sped up; pilot says fog hampered,” Michael Graczyk, June 3, 2014

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