Three crew rescued from barge after tugboat sinks off RI coast

Warthog, a construction barge
The three-person crew aboard Warthog escaped to the construction barge they were towing, right, before their tugboat sank on the morning of Nov. 25 off Point Judith, R.I. The barge was later pushed ashore by the waves.

Three mariners sought refuge on a deck barge after their tugboat took on water near Point Judith, R.I., and they were unable to keep up with the flooding.

The 46-foot Warthog was towing the unidentified 108-foot barge west toward Long Island Sound on Nov. 25 when the tug encountered trouble. A female crewmember called for help at 0817 before all three people on board escaped to the barge from the sinking vessel.

“Mayday, mayday, mayday,” a female voice said over the radio. “This is tugboat Warthog off the coast of Point Judith. … We are taking on water.”

The caller prepared to give coordinates when the portion of the recording released by the U.S. Coast Guard ended. None of the crew reported any injuries. It is not clear how much fuel and engine oil the tug carried, and if any escaped into the environment.

The Coast Guard is investigating the incident but has not discussed a possible cause. The source of the flooding was not known and other key details were not available while the inquiry is ongoing.

Warthog departed New Bedford, Mass., with the barge on a voyage to New London, Conn., on the day of the incident, Coast Guard spokeswoman Amanda Wyrick said. The tug and barge were newly purchased by a private owner and were to be used for construction, she said.

The tug began the journey towing the barge off the stern before making up on the hip. “They transitioned into a side tow when the weather started picking up,” Wyrick said. “It was in that position when they started taking on water.”

The Coast Guard believes the flooding started as the tug and barge approached Point Judith. The vessels were about one mile from shore at the time. Seas were 3 to 5 feet with 5-mph winds.

“We do know that because of the water intrusion into the vessel, they did experience a catastrophic failure with their generator system, which therefore made their bilge pumps and dewatering systems unavailable,” Coast Guard spokesman Justin Doades told a local TV station.

The vessels were within sight of Coast Guard Station Point Judith when the crewmember made the distress call. The Coast Guard dispatched a 45-foot response boat-medium that reached the mariners on the barge within about 15 minutes. The crewmembers were not wearing personal flotation devices, Wyrick said.

The tug was below the surface by the time the Coast Guard arrived. Images released to local media suggest it sank at the stern.

Warthog had been recently renamed. Wyrick said the vessel was previously known as Cabrillo. Sea & Shore Contracting of Randolph, Mass., reportedly acquired a vessel by that name in 2013. The tug, built in 1951, was powered by two John Deere engines with 680 total horsepower.

The Coast Guard Port State Information Exchange listing for Cabrillo indicates the vessel had previously sank and had been laid up for some time. Additional details on its condition were not available.

Sea & Shore Contracting could not be reached for comment. The company’s phone line gave a busy signal during multiple attempts over several days. The Coast Guard declined to name the new owner, claiming that information is part of the ongoing investigation.

As of Dec. 10, the tugboat was still submerged several hundred yards offshore awaiting salvage. The barge, pushed aground by the surf, had been removed, Wyrick said.

By Professional Mariner Staff