British Columbia

Tug capsizing in Fraser River highlights industry risks: TSB report

The capsizing of a tug at the mouth of the Fraser River in Vancouver shows the risks the industry faces because of a lack of awareness of the factors that led to the accident last year, according to the Transportation Safety Board.

Investigation finds insufficient training contributed to 2018 sinking

The George H. Ledcor was raised to the surface of the Fraser River two days after it sank on Aug. 13, 2018. (B.C. Spill Response)

The capsizing of a tug at the mouth of the Fraser River in Vancouver shows the risks the industry faces because of a lack of awareness of the factors that led to the accident last year, according to the Transportation Safety Board.

The 19-metre-long George H. Ledcor was hauling a loaded gravel barge on the north arm of the river not far from the city's airport when it capsized shortly after 10 p.m. on Aug. 13, 2018.

The safety board said it has identified safety risks for the towing industry including informal work practices, insufficient training and a lack of knowledge about the effects of girding, which happens when a vessel is pulled broadside by a tow line force.

The board said the girding and capsizing of the vessel happened quickly after there was an attempt to change the direction of a barge carrying more than 4,600 tonnes of gravel that was also being pushed by an assist tug.

It said the tow line exerted a broadside force on the tug as the barge started to overtake the George H. Ledcor. Attempts to abort the tow were unsuccessful as it "rapidly'' capsized.

Four hours after the recovery effort started, a tiny portion of the sunken George H. Ledcor tugboat could be seen near the surface of the water. (Yvette Brend/CBC)

The four crew members on board were rescued from the vessel's overturned hull. The TSB said one deckhand suffered a serious injury to his hand as he attempted to climb onto the barge from the tug.

Containment booms and absorbent were set in place around the overturned vessel to begin cleanup after the spill:

It's not clear exactly how much diesel fuel has leaked into the Fraser River 0:40

"The investigation highlighted a number of risk factors, notably: if tug masters are not provided initial and recurrent training and if the towing industry continues to rely primarily on tug masters to manage girding hazards through shiphandling skills and informal practices, there is a continued risk that capsizings due to girding will occur,'' the board said in a news release Wednesday.

The TSB received reports of 26 girding situations between 2005 and 2018, resulting in 21 capsizings.

The board said the George H. Ledcor was equipped with three abort mechanisms, which are normally used in emergencies and quickly release the winch brake to take tension out of a tow line.

The 20-metre-long tugboat capsized late at night on Aug. 13 while towing a gravel barge near Deering Island in South Vancouver. (Yvette Brend/CBC)

It said the location, orientation and colour of the buttons to activate the abort mechanisms were different and the labels on them were obscured by other controls and switches.

Since the capsizing, the board said Ledcor Resources and Transportation Inc. has taken a number of steps to reduce the likelihood of similar accidents.

It has added procedures to its safety management system on how to recognize and avoid girding situations. Ledcor also introduced a voyage simulator and classroom training for its masters and mates and installed more standard abort mechanisms in common locations on its vessels.

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