Captain, deficient tug removed from service after barge strikes dockside seafood market

A barge under tow struck and damaged a California dockside seafood market, prompting the U.S. Coast Guard to order the tugboat out of service because of several safety violations. The captain’s license was suspended for two months.

The 1,000-hp Joedy was towing the 174-foot barge Sand Island through an inlet at Newport Beach, Calif., when the accident happened on Jan. 31, the Coast Guard said. The vessels were participating in a dredge operation, transporting spoils from Newport Back Bay to a dump site in the Pacific Ocean.

While inbound near the Pacific Coast Highway Bridge, with the barge empty, the northbound tug lost its steering at 0810, said Lt. Cmdr. Randy Waddington, chief of investigations for the Coast Guard’s Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach. Sand Island struck Pearson’s Port seafood market, on the inlet’s east shore.

“The starboard rudder arm had fractured,” Waddington said. “That’s what precipitated the accident.”

Neither the tug captain nor the operator, Atlas Engineering, had notified the Coast Guard of the accident, Waddington said. The Coast Guard learned of the incident from a newspaper article five days later.

The collision damaged the market’s dock, pilings, mooring systems, floor and roof beams. The estimated repair cost was $10,000 to $40,000.

Witnesses said the same tug and barge had struck the Pacific Coast Highway Bridge as many as three times over a five-week period. The California Department of Transportation inspected the bridge and found no structural damage. The Coast Guard concluded that the vessels probably made contact with a temporary fender system only.

Upon inspecting the 53-foot Joedy, the Coast Guard discovered that it was missing required fire-extinguishing equipment. The vessel had no fixed firefighting or detection systems, or a remote off switch. Eight inches of oil and water had accumulated in its lazarette.

Joedy’s captain, who has 10 years’ experience, was charged with operating outside the scope of his license.

“He was licensed to be in inland internal waters, and he was going outside of three miles with the dredged material,” Waddington said. The captain agreed to a two-month license suspension.

The Coast Guard ordered 53-year-old Joedy out of service until the safety and crewing deficiencies were corrected. Jim Strunk, a manager with Costa Mesa-based Atlas Engineering, said he replaced the insufficiently licensed captain. The tug was allowed back on the job Feb. 19.

Atlas Engineering installed a B-5 firefighting system and remote switch, and it remedied the fuel leak. Proof of towline and terminal gear testing and inspection was ordered.

“It’s the operator’s first foray into buying a tugboat and operating a (tugboat) company, and it shows,” Waddington said. “It has been a steep learning curve for the operator.”

Strunk said there’s no evidence that the vessels struck the bridge.

“They shut us down for a few weeks and cost us thousands of dollars for something we didn’t do,” he said.

Waddington said Joedy was taken out of service purely because of the safety violations.

“The lesson learned here is if you’re a tug operator, spending the time to find out what those regulations are — and spending the money – is worth it in the long run,” Waddington said. “He just needed to do his homework.”

Dom Yanchunas

By Professional Mariner Staff