Crewman falls from towboat after false ‘all clear’ is sounded

A towboat crewman fell overboard and drowned while tending a fuel-barge fleet in Kenova, W.Va.

One investigator said the victim was still trying to disconnect a line after someone had already given the “all clear†alert indicating all the lines had been cast off and the towboat could safely move.

Gary Charles Adams, 25, of Waterloo, Ohio, died after falling off the towing vessel MV Tri-State. The accident happened at 0020 on Jan. 19, during a period of high water and fast currents, said Lt. Wes James, chief of prevention at U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Huntington.

The Marathon Petroleum Co. vessel was working along the shore in the refiner’s fleeting area at the confluence of the Ohio and Big Sandy rivers. The 3,800-hp towboat was in the process of separating from moored tank barges during a crew shift change.

“Gary C. Adams fell from the MV Tri-State into the Ohio River,†Marathon said in a statement. “Despite the efforts of his fellow crewmembers and those of the MV Map Runner, Mr. Adams drowned.â€

Kenova Police Chief Bob McComas said Adams was bent over a cable connection when he was knocked overboard after someone told the towboat captain he could sail away from the barges.

“When they were cutting loose from the barges, the ‘all clear’ had been given,†McComas said. “When (Adams) realized that one line was still connected, he ran over there, but he didn’t get there in time and he hollered on the radio. The line yanked, and it knocked him overboard.â€

McComas said Adams may have been thrown overboard when the towboat captain down-throttled — or a moment later when the boat rebounded into the barge. Adams was about 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighed approximately 300 pounds. He was pulled underwater even though he was wearing a life vest, the police chief said.

“The current was so strong,†he said, “it sucked him under the tugboat.â€

James said the water was 38°.

Nine crewmembers were aboard Tri-State. Map Runner, a Marathon harbor boat, joined the search and recovered the body. McComas said the cause of death was drowning.

Adams was a Coast Guard-certified tankerman. He had worked for Marathon for two and a half years, the company said.

The Coast Guard and Marathon declined to comment on a likely cause of the fatality. “The things we are looking at are how the lines were made up to the barges, how the deck hands were handling them and how they were maneuvering around it,†James said.

James said operators should “constantly emphasize that employees, whether they are deck hands or masters, are keeping their situational awareness up.â€

Dom Yanchunas

By Professional Mariner Staff