Maritime Safety Questioned Once More Following New Zealand Tug Boat-Cruise Ship Collision

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

While the majority of the cruise ship industry’s attention has been focused on getting answers regarding the Carnival Triumph cruise fire accident, maritime safety is being questioned again this week following a collision between a tug boat and another Carnival Corp. subsidiary cruise ship in New Zealand.

The tug boat crashed into the Cunard Queen Elizabeth cruise ship at around 3 p.m. on Saturday in CentrePort during a nautical celebration known as Open Day. The family-friendly event features tug boat rides, port and cruise ship tours, and other maritime excursions for people of all ages to enjoy. Thousands of New Zealanders participate in the festivities every year, but this time, the fun-filled day would be tarnished with an accident.

While Carnival has been blamed for the Triumph cruise ship fire, this time, it appears as though the tug boat was at fault for the accident. The accident took place as the Toia was motoring up the port side of the Queen Elizabeth. The tug boat’s funnel hit the cruise ship’s docking platform, which was roughly 12 meters above the water line. Although the funnel was damaged, the Toia remained in service.

CentrePort authorities have already notified Maritime NZ, New Zealand’s primary Maritime Safety Authority responsible for monitoring and maintaining maritime safety regulations and investigating accidents, and an investigation into the incident is already underway.

Marine services manager and chief pilot Charles Smith would not comment on whether the tug master in charge of the Toia tug boat was experienced or committed some form of wrongdoing while out in the water. He has also yet to confirm if the tug master was relieved of his position, which would be the usual course of action following this kind of accident.

Although no one reported any serious injuries, the Toia had been filled to capacity with 50 people on board, and the accident could have resulted in serious – if not fatal – wounds. One of the tug boat’s passengers, Murray Holden, explained that debris fell down onto the tug boat and other passengers following the collision, which could have seriously injured those onboard.

When the funnel hit the cruise ship’s docking platform, bits of rusted metal from the funnel rained down on passengers. Holden, who was actually cut in the cheek by debris explained that it was a miracle that no one sustained worse injuries.

“It was extremely lucky that no one appeared to be seriously injured, as there was debris all around us,” he explained. “Just why the Toia tug master was so close to the Queen Elizabeth [is unclear]. I can only assume he wanted to give the passengers a thrill and we certainly got that and more.”

The Queen Elizabeth sustained only slight damage to its platform, but nothing that was significant enough to delay the vessel’s departure later that evening.

A spokesman for Maritime NZ noted that hundreds of similar accidents take place each year, but what made this one unusual was the fact that the Queen Elizabeth had just been sitting in the wharf when it was struck by the tug boat. The spokesman also noted that it was not unusual for tug boats to get so close to cruise ships.

Tug boats play an important role in the maritime industry, primarily used to maneuver other vessels that have been stranded at sea. Though small, tug boats are designed in a way that makes them strong and efficient in order to move vessels to port when needed.

However, tug boats can also be extremely dangerous. Because their purpose is to respond to other larger vessels that need assistance, they hold a lot of fuel, making accidents extremely likely and extremely serious. Tug boats also have little room for the crew to move about, which compromises the safety of everyone onboard, especially during unfavorable weather conditions.

Seafarers working on tug boats have to be extremely skilled and cautious so as not to get hurt. The equipment onboard tug boats are as dangerous as the vessels themselves, especially tow winches and tow wires.

Earlier this month, our firm reported that a seaman was seriously injured in a tug boat accident when a tow wire went taught.

Our blog post, titled Injured Seaman Awarded $1.7 Million Under Jones Act, explained that seaman Frederick Harrington had been working onboard the MV CANDACE when he and other crewmembers were charged with moving an underwater pipeline off the coast of Panama City, FL in 2005.

Before moving the pipeline, the CANDACE had to lift the anchor attached to each end of the pipeline, a difficult process known as “anchor pulling.” The procedure involves positioning a tugboat near a buoy that is connected to the anchor by a pennant wire. Once the tug boat is in position, a seaman must capture the wire and pull it onto the boat to connect it to the vessel’s trip hook, then use the towing winch to reel the wire in and lift the anchor.

Just one small mistake can cause serious injuries during this procedure, which is exactly what happened to Harrington. Neither he nor his fellow crewmembers had any prior experience with pulling anchors or how to safety complete the task, yet, they were told to do so.

Harrington was placed in charge of holding the pennant wire, but because of the crew’s lack of experience, the boat moved out of position, causing the pennant wire to go taut and leading Harrington to twist his back.

He was later diagnosed with a herniated lumbar disc and right foot drop. Even after undergoing years of surgery and physical therapy, Harrington, who had a successful career in the maritime industry, was never able to sit or stand for longer than 30 minutes at a time since the incident. He can no longer lift anything heavier than 20 pounds, causing his seafaring job to come to an end.

Although not all maritime accident victims obtain justice for their pain and suffering, Harrington filed a lawsuit against his employer, Weeks Marine Inc. and its affiliate Atlantic Sounding Co.’s negligence, and was awarded $1,728,948 under the Jones Act for his injuries.

Harrington’s tug boat accident goes to show that following any accident at sea, regardless of whether the injuries were severe or not, victims have a right to seek legal help and may be awarded damages for their pain and suffering.

If you or a loved one were hurt while in the service of a tug boat, while a passenger onboard a tug boat, or onboard any other vessel at sea, contact our maritime accident lawyers today to schedule a consultation. With over 100 years of combined legal experience, our firm strives to protect the rights of all maritime accident victims. Give us a call today and allow us to put our expertise to work for you.

Photo Credits:

(stuff.co.nz)
Top Left: Toia tug boat
Middle Right: Open Day event-goers admire Queen Elizabeth cruise ship
Middle Left: Damaged Toia tug boat funnel

Bottom Right: MV CANDACE – maritime-executive.com