USCG Investigates Barge Incident on the Columbia River

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) received a call in the early morning hours of November 23, 2012 from the Tidewater Tug Company, reporting that a barge had hit a submerged object on the Columbia River. The call came in shortly after 3:00 a.m. reporting that the barge Tri-City Voyager struck an unknown object, while being pushed by the tug Defiance traveling north in the vicinity of the Dalles Dam.

The double bottom barge was carrying nearly 1,800,000 gallons of diesel fuel at the time of the incident. Crewmembers of the Defiance reported that there was no breech or pollution, after conducting a sounding of the bottom hull and their fuel tanks.

Following their inspection, the Defiance and the Tri-City Voyager continued north through the Dalles Dam locks and moored by the upper basin wall. Personnel at the Dalles Dam reported that there was no evidence of leaking diesel fuel or pollution.

The USCG Sector Columbia River responded to the call. Sector Columbia River's responsibility is one of the most challenging in the world, extending from the Salmon and Snake Rivers in the east down the Columbia River to coastal Oregon and Washington. The Graveyard of the Pacific is also their responsibility. This dangerous stretch runs from Tillamook Bay on the Oregon Coast north to Cape Scott Provincial Park on Vancouver Island, where heavy fog, winds, waves and rough seas have wrecked thousands of vessels resulting in the loss of many lives.

USCG investigators and marine inspectors from the Marine Safety Office in Portland, Oregon, determined that the Tri-City Voyager hit the walls of the lock approach to the Dalles Dam rather than a submerged object. Further investigation concluded that there was no hazard to navigation on the Columbia River and no evidence pointing to loss of diesel fuel or pollution.

When tugs are moving a loaded barge in inland waters like the Columbia River, they are usually pushing the loaded barge, such as the Tri-City Voyager. A loaded barge can draw roughly 25 feet of water, which makes it very difficult to maneuver and even harder to stop. This combination, along with the other dangers associated with working on tug boats, can result in serious and sometimes fatal injuries to crewmembers.

The shear horsepower of tug boats coupled with its system of large winches, tow drums and wire rope make the deck of a tug a dangerous place to be. Crewmembers are daily facing the possibilities of slipping, falling overboard, getting hit with wire rope or being crushed between the tug and the barge.

The Jones Act offers seamen the ability to recover from vessel owners for injuries suffered due to dangerous working conditions. It requires tug owners and operators to provide its crewmembers a reasonably safe place to work and if the employer or its agents' negligence is found to have caused injury, they may be responsible.

If you, or a family member, have suffered an injury or lost a loved one from an accident on a tug boat, you need to seek the advice of an experienced Seattle maritime attorney with a proven track record.

John Merriam & Gordon Webb are Seattle maritime attorneys, with nearly 50 years of experience representing tug and barge workers.

Contact us
through our website or call us direct at 877.800.1007 to discuss your case. We can meet you at our Seattle or Bellevue office. We also accept weekend and evening appointments.

You will never owe us a fee unless we get you a recovery.

Other Resources:

Coast Guard responds to a barge that struck a submerged object in Columbia River, The News Guard, November 23, 2012

News Release UPDATE: Coast Guard responds to a barge that struck a submerged object in Columbia River

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