Written by Jen Finn
From U.S. Coast Guard reports
Just before midnight in mid-October off the coast of Oregon, the skies were clear and the seas were calm. A 45-foot steel tuna boat and its two-man crew were headed back to port. The two-day trip had yielded only seven tuna. The skipper had just taken over the watch and was sitting back in his chair peering out the starboard pilothouse windows. He turned on his 1,000-watt sodium light to illuminate the darkness ahead.
Just over the horizon, a similar change of watch took place on a 115-foot tug towing a 400-foot barge. Each officer was standing two six-hour watches a day. At 11:45 p.m., it was the mate's turn to relieve the skipper. Before assuming the watch the mate checked both the tug's radars and saw a clear course on autopilot. He turned his attention to the chart table.
Just after midnight, the watch standers at a nearby Coast Guard station received a mayday call from the skipper of the fishing boat. It had just collided bow-first into the starboard side of the tug.
The Coast Guard response boats arrived 25 minutes later. The tug sustained only superficial damage, but the fishing vessel suffered crippling damage to its bow and was taking on water. The Coast Guard crew transferred a submersible pump and a team climbed aboard to help. They quickly determined the compartments of the fishing boat were flooding through a 4-foot crack in the bow.
Armed with wooden plugs, shims, strips of heavy-duty rubber and oakum, the team worked to plug the bow. Topside the skipper and mate rigged a makeshift collision mat of heavy tarp to cover the bow from the outside.
The damaged boat made for the entrance channel under its own power and escorted by the Coast Guard. They landed safely at about 4 a.m.
Only moments before the impact did the skipper of the fishing boat and the mate of the tug become aware of each other. The fishing skipper said he only had time to yell and put his boat in full astern to reduce the impact. Just before impact the tug's mate caught a glimpse of something white.
Although both operators were doing everything right as far as having proper safety equipment onboard, illumination of their vessels, and monitoring their radars, they each failed to see the other coming.
The outcome could have been worse if not for the quick reaction of the fishing skipper. He had the presence of mind to realize there might be a barge in tow and kept backing until the barge passed. Then he got off a quick mayday. Initial efforts by the skipper and mate of the tuna boat were a testament to their 70 years of combined experience, bought them some time and helped to ensure that the vessel was not lost.
When standing your watch don't forget to actually watch out for other vessels. Fish Safe!
This article is based on U.S. Coast Guard reporting and is intended to bring safety issues to the attention of our readers. It is not intended to judge or reach conclusions regarding the ability or capacity of any person, living or dead, or any boat or piece of equipment.
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