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Tug and barge workers face multiple hazards

Tugboats play a key role in many thousands of vessel movements every year.

It's important but dangerous work. By towing barges or escorting larger vessels, tugs are very involved in the oil industry in Alaska and in other maritime commerce. But the risk of injury or even death is very real.

In March of this year, for example, three crew members died when their tugboat sank after colliding with a barge transporting a crane on the Hudson River. A few months later, a deckhand trying to fix a mooring line was killed on the Naknek River in Southeast Alaska when got caught between two barges and crushed.

There are also numerous documented instances of tug accidents in Canadian waters.

What are some of the most common dangers that tug workers face?

These dangers include:

Undermanning - When a company fails to spend enough money to hire a big enough crew, it can make it difficult to tie up a barge properly or respond adequately to emergencies. This can cause accidents. Lack of a sufficiently large crew also leads to fatigue among seaman, which can result in injury-causing mistakes.
Captain's error - A captain can misjudge a navigational maneuver, causing a collision. Another scenario is failing to detect (or refusing to fix) a leak that causes slippery conditions on deck and a resulting fall.
Inadequate equipment or equipment failure - Tie-up lines can easily become worn, putting seamen at risk. Ladders are also often poorly maintained, causing many injuries getting on and off barges.

This is not an exclusive list. Moreover, all of the dangers can be magnified in bad weather. In short, as dependable as they generally are, tugboats come with many risks to the seamen who work on them.


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Stacey & Jacobsen, PLLC
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