Barge tow strikes powerboat stalled in fog on Columbia River


Two fishermen escaped serious injury after a tugboat and barge ran over their powerboat in dense fog on the Columbia River, pushing them underwater.

The two men, a father and son, were crossing the river at mile marker 57 near Longview, Wash., at about 0730 on March 21 when their engine stalled inside the navigation channel. Before they could restart the motor, a barge pushed by the tugboat Dauby plowed over their smaller craft.

“They were traveling slowly due to the fog and their main motor died and they couldn’t get it started again. … (The) barge suddenly appeared and they didn’t have time to get out of the way,” said Cowlitz County Sheriff Sgt. Ryan Cruser.

The impact pushed the two men and their boat under the barge. They were not wearing life jackets. People aboard several nearby vessels witnessed the incident, and a good Samaritan pulled the men from the water.

At press time, investigator Travis Nolen of U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Portland was still collecting information and interviewing witnesses. The cause of the accident has not been determined. He said eyewitness accounts suggest the tugboat did not sound a foghorn in the minutes leading up to the collision.

The 2,100-hp Dauby did not stop or render assistance after the accident, although Nolen said the captain “didn’t even know he hit them.” Authorities used AIS and other available data to identify Dauby as the tug involved.

The two recreational boaters launched their vessel just before the incident and were crossing the river to a quiet fishing spot away from commercial traffic. The Coast Guard said there was “near-zero visibility” in the thick fog.

Contrary to some reported accounts, the two boaters were not anchored inside the channel. They listened for fog signals before crossing the river, Nolen said, and set out when they did not hear anything.

“Their assumption is, ‘We don’t hear (fog signals) so we are going to slowly go across,’ and then their engine died,” he said, noting that the men knew right away their boat was within the channel. “They were frantically trying to get restarted.”

Crew aboard another nearby tug, the 3,000-hp Hurricane, did not witness the accident, but the captain notified the Coast Guard after seeing the overturned fishing boat in the river. The crew also got the attention of a couple of nearby fishing vessels and had them check the capsized boat to look for its occupants, according to a spokeswoman for Hurricane owner Tidewater Transportation.

After the incident, local volunteer divers attached a towline to the capsized powerboat. The sheriff’s department towed it to shore using its Munson landing craft.

SDS Lumber Co. of Bingen, Wash., operates the 37-year-old Dauby. Company President Jason Spadaro acknowledged the powerboat was inside the navigation channel but he declined to comment further, citing the ongoing Coast Guard investigation.

By Professional Mariner Staff