Crewmember is lost after towboat capsizes in fast-flowing Ohio River, two reach safety

One deck hand was missing in the Ohio River after a towboat capsized and sank near Cincinnati while the river was at flood stage. The U.S. Coast Guard said the three-person crew might have just taken off their life vests when the vessel ran into trouble.

Two other crewmen on the 46-foot MV Ceredo escaped and were able to swim to shore. The towing vessel sank at about 1630 March 14 near Taylorsport, Ky., shortly after departing a barge fleeting area there.

The Ohio River was “right at flood stage†and the downbound towboat was running light, said Chief Warrant Officer Brad Carlton, assistant supervisor of the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Detachment at Cincinnati. The current was 5 to 7 knots, and the river was full of debris.

“It had just dropped some barges into the fleeting area, and it was moving away from the fleeting area,†Carlton said. “They said it leaned to starboard and held for a minute and then just rolled over. They had no idea why. The current was running pretty good.â€

Deck hand Christopher McAllister, 37, of Vevay, Ind., was never found. The surviving crew said they saw McAllister floating downriver, but he never made it to shore.

Ceredo’s owner and operater is Aquarius Marine Co., based in Ludlow, Ky. The towboat was headed back to its Ludlow dock when it sank, said Hope Matheny, the company’s chief of safety. Matheny didn’t know if the crew spent any time trying to save the boat before it went down.

“The incident happened very suddenly,†Matheny said.

She said the voyage between Taylorsport and Ludlow normally takes 45 minutes. Matheny referred additional questions to Aquarius Marine co-owner Gary Yancer, who didn’t respond to a phone message.

Carlton said the Coast Guard is investigating whether McAllister or any of the Ceredo crew had grabbed a life vest when they abandoned ship. At least one of the witnesses said one or more of them removed their vests just before the accident.

“They had just taken them off, because they’d gone up to the pilothouse,†Carlton said. “Most of the companies require them to wear work vests when they’re down below or working a barge, but they may not require them in the pilothouse.â€

The Coast Guard closed the river for about one day until the sunken towboat could be located and the channel deemed safe. Aquarius Marine, which specializes in heavy lift, salvage and marine constructions, raised Ceredo a week later in 51 feet of water. The boat was scheduled to go for dry-dock repairs in April.

The surviving crewmen, who swam to the Kentucky shoreline in 45° water, were treated at a hospital for hypothermia.

By Professional Mariner Staff