Alaska tug crewman crushed between barges during line repair

A tugboat crewman died after getting caught between two barges in the Naknek River in southwest Alaska.

The accident occurred at 1145 on June 29 when two barge workers were repairing a fouled line connected to a mooring buoy. Spencer Brewer, 20, of Seattle, Wash., fell into the water and was crushed between the barges while trying to climb onto the deck of one of them, according to Bristol Bay Borough Police Chief Stan Swetzof.

Brewer tried to drop back into the water as the barges moved closer together, but he was wearing a personal flotation device and was unable to get under the surface.

“They were able to get the barges apart again, and by then people on the barge said he appeared to be unconscious and was floating downriver with the current,” Swetzof said. “They pulled him out of the water and performed CPR.”

Coast Guard spokeswoman Meredith Manning confirmed that the accident occurred during a mooring evolution but declined to elaborate. The accident remains under investigation and a cause was not available.

Brewer was an able seaman on the 1,480-hp tugboat Cross Point operated by Alaska Marine Lines. Cross Point and several other tugs were returning to the Naknek area from a transport to Egegik, Alaska, when they stopped near the mouth of the Naknek River to repair the fouled line. One barge was tied to the mooring buoy, with other barges tied onto the center barge’s port and starboard sides.

Brewer and the other crewman climbed onto the buoy while one of the tugboats pushed the barges back, against the current, to allow for the line repair. Swetzof said one barge slipped forward and bumped the buoy, sending Brewer into the water.

One of the tugboats in the area picked up the other crewman but Brewer went under the surface. He ended up under a barge and the crew worked to spread the vessels apart. Brewer surfaced between two barges about 25 feet downriver, police said.

Brewer “started trying to climb up out of water and barges started coming back together, and (the crew) began hollering and telling him he was not going to make it and to try to get under the barge,” Swetzof said.

Brewer apparently tried but was unsuccessful, according to Swetzof.

Afterward, the crew again separated the barges, and Brewer floated with the current. Crew ran to the stern of the roughly 300-foot barge and pulled him onto the deck.

He was transferred to a tugboat and one of the crewmen called for an ambulance to meet them at a nearby dock, but it took 20 minutes for the boat to return to shore. Nobody gave Brewer CPR during transit because only the captain operating the vessel knew how to perform it, Swetzof said.

First responders on shore tried for 30 minutes to resuscitate Brewer, but those efforts were not successful and he was declared dead. Authorities performed an autopsy but the manner of death was not available as of late July.

According to his obituary, Brewer was friendly, outgoing and good for a laugh. He made friends easily and was always willing to lend a hand.

“He loved everything that had to do with boats and the water, starting with early days as a Sea Scout. The chance to live and work in Alaska was a dream come true,” the obituary said.

Alaska Marine Lines is a subsidiary of Lynden, a West Coast marine transportation firm based in Seattle. A spokesman declined to comment on the accident.

By Professional Mariner Staff