During the first 4 months of 2005, the MAIB has been notified of three significant collisions involving harbour tugs. In the first incident, a tug running stern first ahead of a merchant vessel lost control, turned broadside across the bow of her charge and was holed beneath the waterline. In the second, a tug guiding the stern of a merchant vessel moving stern first lost control, struck the stern, and ended up with her tow line wrapped completely round her bridge superstructure. In the third incident, a tug attempting to pass a line to a merchant vessel underway lost control, ran in under the bow and struck the bulbous bow. Fortunately, in two cases the damage was reasonably minor; in the third, the tug had to be beached. No lives were lost, however the consequences could have been much worse.
The common theme to all three of the above incidents was that the tug master, although in each case quite experienced, was operating a tug with an unfamiliar propulsion system, and was attempting a manoeuvre with that system for the first time. The tug propulsion systems in the three incidents were not the same, however, each required a very different thought process on the part of the tug masters to manoeuvre the vessels effectively and safely when compared to the systems they were accustomed to. The key point is that, although the tug masters had a wealth of professional experience, they had received insufficient training and familiarisation with the systems they were using when the collisions occurred.
MAIB strongly urges that:
• All tug operators review their training schemes, to ensure that tug masters receive comprehensive familiarisation training before taking control of a tug which is equipped with a significantly different
propulsion system. Such training should incorporate instruction and
validation on all manoeuvres that the tug master is likely to be tasked in the port.
• All harbour authorities, pilots and tug operators regularly review the capabilities and limitations of their harbour tugs and their crews, to ensure a common understanding of each tug’s strengths and weaknesses. This should be supplemented for each towing task with a local appraisal of the intended operation to ensure the “tug to task” allocation is appropriate before the tow or move begins.
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