Poorly maintained equipment is a hazard for obvious reasons, and that’s why safety and maintenance often go hand in hand.
This means that operators need to inspect their equipment, immediately report any damage or defects and waste no time in taking a faulty machine out of service.
The maintenance department then has to play its part to make sure the equipment is repaired properly and is actually safe to use again.
If any of the links in this chain fails, a major hazard could be created.
For example, a National Transportation Safety Board investigation into a capsized barge revealed that the incident occurred because:
- the captain failed to report what he deemed was minor damage to the vessel’s hatch covers
- crew members improvised repairs, including using heavy metal plates to replace the missing covers, and
- the owner failed to ensure that proper maintenance and permanent repairs were performed.
Poorly repaired crane barge sinks, costs company $6.3M
The crane barge Ambition was being towed when it capsized and sank on June 15, 2022, releasing 1,980 gallons of oil. There were no injuries reported. The vessel was a total loss estimated at $6.3 million.
Because of the height of the crane, the Ambition was being towed by the towing vessel Karen Koby in the Gulf of Mexico about 48 miles southeast of Cameron, Louisiana.
During the early part of the voyage, the port bow of the Ambition grazed a wooden piling channel marker. The captain of the Karen Koby determined that the contact was light enough that it didn’t warrant a check for damages. He also didn’t notice any damage to the marker, so he didn’t report the contact to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Unsecured metal plates used as hatch covers
While at a fuel stop hours later, a deckhand inspected the crane barge. He noted that the hatch cover gaskets weren’t in place and not all of the hatch cover lids were physically locked. At least six of the hatches weren’t covered or secured. He also noted visible hull damage.
The crew at the fueling station were employees of the owner of the Ambition, Rigid Constructors. When told of the hatch cover and hull issues, the Rigid crew placed a large metal plate over the hatches with the missing covers as an improvised solution. The crew supervisor told the captain he was “secured” and could depart with “no restrictions.”
Tugboat suffers unexpected slowdown
Overnight, the first mate of the Karen Koby, who had taken the helm to give the captain some rest, began to notice the tugboat’s speed was slowing. The slowdown was occurring despite the throttle controls being at the same setting they’d been for hours. As this got worse, the first mate woke up the captain to help him check on the Ambition, which was hard to see in the darkness.
They used a spotlight to see what was going on with the Ambition, but it didn’t help them detect what was happening. Eventually, a crew member saw the Ambition capsize and begin to sink.
The crane barge partially sank in about 54 feet of water with its port bow embedded in the sand and its starboard quarter protruding out of the water. The crew of the Karen Koby reeled in as much tow line as possible, then cut the cable. The tugboat remained on scene with the barge until help arrived.
Bad weld in hull caused initial flooding
During a post-salvage examination, NTSB investigators found a 25-foot-long separation along the weld seam in the hull plating. This poor hull condition caused the initial flooding of the interior of the Ambition. The flooding was made worse by the hatches and covers that were in poor condition.
The NTSB determined that Rigid Constructors’ failure to conduct thorough inspections, perform permanent repairs and follow good maintenance practices led to the incident.
However, the Karen Koby‘s captain’s failure to report damage and continue the voyage despite the poor condition of the hatches and their covers also contributed to the incident.
Good maintenance practices would’ve prevented this incident
Thankfully, no one was injured in this incident, but it still cost the company $6.3 million.
The incident could have been easily avoided with proper reporting and inspections, regular maintenance, and permanent repairs.