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Precis File
SHIP NAME: Tintomara, DM932, Mel Oliver KEY: NUM. ENTRIES: 2
source OTTO 2009-07
type D
volume
material
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Only six oil spills were recorded in 2008, of which the largest spill came from barge DM 932, which collided with a tanker in New Orleans, spilling 1570 tons of fuel oil. [This is based on ITOPF.]


source CTX
type D
volume
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dead 0
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At 0130 on 2008-07-23 the loaded 46,733 dwt product tanker was downbound on the Mississippi River at about MM 99. Her cargo was bio-diesel and styrene. The sky was clear, 3/4 moon, light wind, and 10 mile visibility. She was approaching the two separate spans of the Crescent City connection bridges. She was traveling at 10 kts (over ground or thru water???). The tug Mel Oliver was pushing the oil barge DM932 up river, apparently at very low speed, near the east bank. The 3 tank barge was carrying 1,587 m3 of #6 fuel oil. The tow veered to port in front of the tanker. Six VHF calls from the tanker went unanswered.

The tanker hit the barge at just about 90 degrees in way of the the No 1/2 bulkhead. The 35 foot beam barge was essentially cut in two. The 1 and 2 tanks were holded, but the aft No 3 tank with approximately 500 m3 was not. The No 1/2 portion sank, the No 3 portion remained on the surface oriented vertically and tied to the sunken portion by a few shreads of plating. The eventual spill was about 1,100 m3 of heavy fuel oil. and the river was oiled, most of the way to the Gulf Of Mexico. No casualties. Traffic was disrupted for days.

The Mel Oliver was an Uninspected tug with an assigned crew of Captain, Steersman apprentice, and two deck hands. It turns out the Captain, Terry Carver, had left the tug on July 20th to visit his girl friend in Illinois with whom he was having some kind of "personal troubles". The steersman, John Baveret, had had no relief for 3 days, snatching cap naps when he could. Bavaret was not licensed to be in charge of a tug; but both deckhands testified he was a better tug handler than Carver.

The testimony of the three crew men is conflicting. Baveret said that the radar malfunctioned, and occupied his attention, that he didn't respond to the Tintomara since the mike has slipped to the floor and he didn't want to reach for it. He also alledged some sort of steering problem. Post-collision tests of all this equipment revealed them to be operating, although the tug engine room was very dirty and messy and the USCG thought it possible that some of the mess could have lodged temporarily in the steering gear. Overall inspectors found the tug in poor condition. One deckhand claimed that he found Bavaret asleep and had to lift him out of the captain's chair to take over. The other deckhand said when he got to the wheelhouse, Bavaret was slow to respond but not asleep. Bavaret told him he did not see the other ship and had steering problems. All three crew tested negative for drugs and alcohol.

During the investigation, it became clear that the practice of one or the other of the Captain/steersman's taking off, while the other covered for him was not that unusual. What was unusual was the length of Carver's absence. It also became clear that the tug operator, DRD Towing, fairly regularly and illegally used steersmen as captains and adjusted their pay when this was the case.

The USCG has yet to issue its final report, but it seems pretty clear to CTX that the proximate cause of the collision was a badly sleep deprived, one man watch falling asleep. The real cause was the Captain's abandoning his ship. The whole mess was encouraged by lousy management.

It is possible that twin screw on the Tintomara might have helped. With a single screw ship, the pilot probably made the right choice in deciding not to try and avoid the tow. He had the bridges to deal with, and, if he had gone astern, he would have lost steerageway and control, and we could have had a 45,000 ton spill, some of which would have been very toxic styrene. If the Tintomara has been twin screw, he could have gone astern and still maintained control. How much that would have helped depends on how far away he was when he realized the tow was effectively not under control. The USCG investigation does not seem to have worried about, nor recorded, the position of the Tintomara at the time she was making the VHF calls, altho this information was readily available from the Voyage Data Recorder. We need this data.