Captain injured when entangled towline led to tug capsizing at dock

A tug captain was injured and his tugboat remains on the bottom of British Columbia’s Fraser River after the vessel capsized while mooring a barge in a swift current.

The 26-foot Sea Cap VII flipped at about 0900 on June 28 near New Westminster, upstream of Vancouver.

A crewman from the tug was aboard the barge at the time. The captain was able to hold onto a towline and was rescued by the crew of its partner vessel Sea Cap III, according to the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Victoria.

The capsizing happened during unusually high currents because of a strong freshet in the Fraser River, said Raymond Mathew, regional senior marine investigator at the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada.

Mathew told Professional Mariner that the captain was moving a barge from one position along the dock to another spot on the same dock initially after tying the barge up. He was told it had to be moved a bit to facilitate unloading. The accident happened while he was making the relatively small move.

“The towline got entangled on the port stern quarter of the tugboat, and the current was so high and the tide so strong, and before he could do something it moved the boat abeam of the current,” Mathew explained. “The current caught the tug, and the boat was exposed to the whole force of the current before he could do anything. It girded the tug, and the current was very strong and it flipped it over. He just about held onto the rope and was rescued by another tug from the company.”

The captain suffered numerous physical injuries and was hospitalized.

Sea Cap III rescued the captain from the water, the Canadian Coast Guard said. Smit Hyak recovered the barge and took it into the Fraser Surrey Docks.

Sea Cap VII, owned by Valley Towing Ltd. of New Westminster, is powered by a single 240-hp diesel engine.

The captain, who is owner and manager of Valley Towing Ltd., still had not returned to work in early August. He declined to comment on the accident until after Transport Canada’s inquiry. The company plans to recover the sunken tug.

Mathew expects no further action by the TSB.

“I had a chat with them to be careful when they are doing transfers during high freshets,” Mathew said. “So I don’t think there will be a further investigation.”

The New Westminster Police Department, Surrey Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Coast Guard Sea Island-based hovercraft responded.

By Professional Mariner Staff