Deck hand, 25, killed in apparent fall from tugboat in Florida yard

A deck hand fell from a tugboat and drowned while trying to reposition a barge at a Merritt Island, Fla., boatyard.

Shaun Cheney, 25, of Cocoa Beach, Fla., was working for Beyel Brothers when he fell from the tugboat into the Canaveral Barge Canal on Sept. 13, 2013, according to Agent Marlon Buggs, of the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office. None of Cheney’s co-workers on the tug saw him fall overboard.

Cheney was not wearing a life jacket before he fell into the water, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Buggs, who works for the department’s homicide unit, said the case does not appear suspicious. His office, which investigates most deaths, is awaiting a toxicology report and a final medical examiner’s report showing the cause of death before ruling out foul play.

“We are assuming he fell off,” Buggs said, adding that the investigation is ongoing.

Cheney was working on a tugboat that was moving a barge from one side of the Beyel Brothers Merritt Island yard to another when the accident occurred. The tug had already connected to the barge and Cheney is believed to have fallen off at some point during the transit.

The distance between the two points is only about 50 yards, Buggs said. Cheney was reported missing at about 0900.

Merritt Island is located between Cocoa, Fla., and Cape Canaveral on Florida’s Atlantic coast.

Cheney’s duties included hooking up the tugboat to the barge. There isn’t any known reason why he would have left the tugboat “unless he saw something” that needed attending, Buggs said.

“He was last seen on the tugboat,” he said. “His duties were to remain on the tugboat.”

Cheney’s body was recovered a day after the accident by a Brevard County dive crew near the tugboat where he was last seen.

Cheney’s mother, Loraine Cheney, said her son had worked for Beyel Brothers for more than two years, a job that took him to Cuba, Aruba and other exotic destinations. He grew up in Cocoa Beach and had been around boats his whole life. She said he was a strong swimmer and also worked as a commercial fisherman.

“I think he just got sucked under,” Loraine Cheney said of the accident. She believes he lost his footing at some point during the transit and fell into the murky water.

She said her son was well-liked by his co-workers and had many friends. Almost 1,200 people attended his funeral. He left behind a girlfriend and a brother who lives in Tennessee. At the time of his death, Cheney was considering a merchant mariner’s license.

Authorities closed the barge canal after Cheney went missing for an intensive search by air and water. The Coast Guard sent a boat crew from Coast Guard Station Port Canaveral and an air crew from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Brevard County sheriff’s deputies assisted with the search.

The Coast Guard, Port Canaveral Police and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration are investigating the incident. A Coast Guard spokesman in Jacksonville declined to comment on the case, citing the ongoing investigation.

Joe Beyel, president of Beyel Brothers, did not return a voice mail message seeking comment.

By Professional Mariner Staff