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
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.
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.