NTSB Releases Reports on Fatal Tugboat Sinking on Hudson River, 3 Other Marine Investigations

tug specialist sinking
The tugboat Specialist is recovered from the Hudson River, March 24, 2016. Photo: NTSB/U.S. Coast Guard

Inadequate manning and the crewmember fatigue that resulted caused the deadly sinking of the tugboat Specialist on New York’s Hudson River at the Tappan Zee Bridge construction site back in March 2016, according to one of four marine accident briefs released by the National Transportation Safety Board this week.

Three crewmembers were killed when the uninspected towing vessel Specialist sank following a collision with a construction barge that was spudded down alongside a concrete pier at the new Tappan Zee Bridge construction site on March 12, 2016. The Specialist was one of three tugs towing a tower crane barge southbound on the Hudson River. 

The incident, which occurred at 0500, was captured on video by workers on the construction barge:

The Specialist subsequently sank, resulting in three crew fatalities. The Specialist was raised to the surface on March 24, 2016, and declared a constructive total loss.

According to NTSB investigators, crewmembers aboard the Specialist and its sister ship, Realist, had likely not received more than 4 to 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep in at least three days prior to the accident. The crew was also dealing with bad weather, strong currents and restricted visibility, which increased their overall workload.

“The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the collision and sinking of the Specialist was inadequate manning, resulting in fatigued crewmembers navigating three tugboats with obstructed visibility due to the size of the crane on the barge they were towing and the location of the tugboats alongside the barge,” the NTSB said in its Marine Accident Brief. 

The NTSB also released Tuesday a report on the March 1, 2016, allision between the tugboat Kodiak and the North Landing Bridge in Chesapeake, Virginia. The NTSB found the allision was caused by the mate’s inability to safely navigate the vessel due to his inexperience. Following the accident, U.S. Coast Guard investigators found evidence revealing that the mate falsified sea time to meet the criteria for receiving credentials to operate a towing vessel as a mate.

The NTSB announced its findings in two other marine cases including a Jan. 17, 2016, fire aboard the fishing vessel Raffaello in Pago Pago Harbor, American Samoa, and a Jan. 21, 2016, allision between the towing vessel Amy Frances and the Natchez-Vidalia Highway 84 Bridge near Natchez, Mississippi.