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Emergency towage improvements needed after container ship and tug grounding

Emergency towage improvements needed after container ship and tug grounding
An investigation into the grounding of a container ship and tug indicated safety issues to be addressed

The UK Government’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch published its report this week into the grounding of a feeder vessel and supporting tugboat in the Humber Estuary in the UK, on the evening of 15 December 2018.

Its findings highlight how equipment failure, ineffective decision support and errors of judgement and situational awareness can endanger seafarers, vessels and the environment.

In strong winds and currents, container feeder ship Thea II suffered an engine failure and had to anchor to await tugs to tow it into harbour. In storm force conditions, the container vessel, managed by TS-Shipping, dragged its single anchor towards the Binks Shoal.

Tug Svitzer Josephine was dispatched to assist and attempted towage. Both Thea II and this tug ran aground before the feeder ship could be towed clear.

Both vessels were refloated with the tide later that evening. Svitzer Josephine returned to harbour under its own power and Thea II was towed clear of the bank.

It was eventually towed into Hull two days later, after shipmanagers tried to negotiate contractual terms with another tug operator.

MAIB investigators highlighted these safety issues in the report. Thea II dragged its anchor because sufficient chain and/or the second anchor had not been used.

Investigators found Svitzer Josephine grounded because its master became disorientated when he was otherwise focused on securing the towline to the stricken container vessel. Also, the master did not have a navigational plan to keep his tug safe.

MAIB said in the report, Svitzer Josephine’s master did not fully appreciate the level of risk he was exposing his tug to when he took the vessel out of the main channel to attend Thea II.

Svitzer Josephine grounded because the master lost navigational positional awareness and did not appreciate the rate of drift of both vessels towards the Binks Shoal.

MAIB also highlighted the delays in Thea II securing a tow after refloating were due to the shipmanager’s lack of awareness of their vessel’s situation. They eventually approved a tow under Lloyd’s Open Form for salvage when the UK Secretary of State’s representative threatened to issue direction.

UK-based SMS Towage eventually towed Thea II into Hull port using its tugs Irishman and Pullman.

In response to this accident and according to MAIB’s investigation report, Svitzer conducted an internal investigation into this accident and delivered several recommendations.

These included reviewing the use of echo sounder and electronic chart systems in tug navigation, and improving the governance of, and preparation for, ‘special service’ and non-routine towing operations.

Svitzer also reiterated the requirement to produce passage plans when operating outside the tug’s normal area of operations.

Following this accident, TS-Shipping reviewed the safety critical engine spares carried on Thea II with the engine manufacturer.

MAIB also recommended TS-Shipping review its emergency response organisation and procedures with the aim of improving decision making and the clarity of advice provided to its vessels.

Meanwhile, port operator ABP Humber conducted an internal investigation into this accident, reviewed relevant risk assessments and ensured local tugs carry relevant charts. It has also reviewed fire tug arrangements and its memorandum of understanding with the Humber coastguard.

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