Chief engineer dies following fire aboard recently refurbished tugboat on Lake Ontario


A tugboat’s chief engineer was killed in a fire on Lake Ontario during the vessel’s first voyage after an ownership change and major refurbishment.

Matthew James Hoban, 49, died after being severely burned in the March 27 blaze aboard Patrice McAllister. Five other crewmembers were treated for minor injuries.

The 4,400-hp tug, formerly known as Cleveland, was en route to its new Staten Island, N.Y., homeport for the first time after McAllister Towing acquired the U.S.-flagged vessel. At about 0300, Patrice McAllister caught fire about four miles southeast of Point Petre, Ontario, said Christian Cafiti, a rescue coordinator with the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre at Trenton, Ontario.

“Our initial report was an engine fire,” Cafiti said. “The crew did try to put it out, but they were unable to put it out. After that, McAllister Towing hired a salvage vessel to tow the (tugboat).”

A Canadian armed forces helicopter airlifted the severely burned engineer to a hospital in Belleville, Ontario, Cafiti said. The Canadian Coast Guard cutter Cape Hearne evacuated the master, mate, first engineer and two deck hands. They were treated at a Kingston, Ontario, hospital and released.

That same day, Hoban was transferred to a Toronto burn unit, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy was performed by the Toronto East Regional Coroner’s Office. Results will not be made public, said coroner’s spokeswoman Cheryl Mahyr.

After McAllister bought the tug from Laken Shipping in January, the company ordered two months of work on the 13-year-old boat at a shipyard in Toledo, Ohio.

“She underwent major upgrades and engine overhauls to prepare her for duty on the East Coast,” McAllister said in a statement.

The renamed Patrice McAllister had an Enhanced Seaway Inspection by Canadian officials at Port Colborne, Ontario, on the evening of March 26, the company said. After the fire disabled the tugboat, the still-smoking abandoned vessel was towed to Clayton, N.Y., by the tug Bowditch after a period of cooling and re-flash suppression.

Hoban had more than 20 years experience working on tugs, McAllister’s statement said. Hoban joined McAllister from the previous Cleveland crew and had worked for the New York company for only a couple of weeks.

Hoban, who lived in Cleveland, was a U.S. Navy veteran who had 20 years of experience on tugboats.

“He was hired because of his talent and knowledge of the Patrice, having worked aboard her for many years prior to joining McAllister,” the company’s statement said.

There were no immediate reports of problems with the tug’s firefighting equipment. “The vessel was provided with a full complement of portable extinguishers and a fixed fire suppression system for the engine room,” said Kurt Benson, U.S. Coast Guard senior marine inspector and investigator at Massena, N.Y.

The blaze heavily damaged the tug, which McAllister plans to repair.

“The entire interior of the vessel, from the main deck up, was completely burnt,” said Benson. “Anything that could burn did, with the exception of the ring buoy on the port side.”

Transport Canada is investigating the incident for level of compliance with Canadian safety regulations, said the agency’s spokeswoman, Paula Fairfax. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada, U.S. Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board have opened casualty investigations.

“Several parts have been removed by authorities from the CAT engine for forensic testing by the NTSB,” McAllister’s statement said. “The tug is now secured in Staten Island where the investigation into the incident is continuing and plans to restore her to operating condition are being made.”

Hoban is survived by his mother and four siblings. He was the guardian of his late sister’s two children.

By Professional Mariner Staff