Wake from 72-foot towboat with five barges swamps 17-foot skiff, killing its occupant

The operator of a 17-foot skiff was killed when his vessel was swamped by the wake of a towboat near Morgan City, La.

Leonard “Pete” Hue, 57, of Pierre Part, La., was alone in his skiff Aug. 7 at mile 21 of the Morgan City-Port Allen Alternate Route, accompanied by several other skiffs, according to Lt. Pedro Mendoza, a marine investigations officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Morgan City. The incident occurred at 2145.

The 72-foot Salvation, towing five barges, was northbound at a speed of 1.5 knots. The barges ranged from 148 to 200 feet long.

Hue’s skiff, and the other skiffs he was with, were southbound along the east bank of the waterway, Mendoza said. Hue’s boat was swamped by the towboat and tow. Mendoza said there were no lights on Hue’s skiff.

It was a clear night and visibility was good. Mendoza said this part of the waterway is not especially narrow, and there are no hazards.

He declined to comment on the cause of the casualty because the Coast Guard case is still open.

Capt. Ricky Acosta, of the St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office, said that it is completely dark at mile 21. When a small skiff is on this waterway at night, “all you can see on either side of the bank are two black shadows — that’s the tree line. You’re following the tree line; you’re not concentrating too much on the water. You can see the sky, and you see the two black walls — the trees.”

Acosta said it is common for recreational boats to be in this part of the waterway, which is 400 feet wide. A boat and an officer from the sheriff’s office assisted in the search for Hue.

The incident was reported to Coast Guard Sector New Orleans by the crew of Salvation. Eckstein Marine of New Orleans operates the towboat. The company declined to comment.

The Coast Guard said it sent out a 25-foot response boat from MSU Morgan City and an MH-65C Dolphin rescue helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans to do a first-light search on the morning of Aug. 8. A small boat from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries also took part in the search.

Hue’s body was found at 1700 on Aug. 8 in the Belle River, near the accident location.

David Tyler

By Professional Mariner Staff