The US Coast Guard, in partnership with the American Waterways Operators (AWO), has published the National Quality Steering Committee’s annual safety report containing towing industry data for calendar years 1994 to 2017. The report reveals that in 2017, there were six operational towing vessel crew fatalities.
The National Quality Steering Committee looks at three safety measures to track overall trends in towing vessel safety and environmental protection: Crew fatalities per 100,000 towing industry workers, gallons of oil spilled from tank barges per million gallons transported, and the number of towing vessel casualties (overall and by incident severity).
The report also includes summary statistics on crewmember injuries, which the National Quality Steering Committee began tracking in 2006, for calendar years 2006 to 2017.
In 2017, there were six operational towing vessel crew fatalities. While 13 deaths were reported to the Coast Guard aboard freight carrying towing vessels in 2017, only six were directly related to towing vessel operations. The other seven deaths were due to existing medical conditions (6) and an accidental overdose (1). Of the six crew fatalities, two vessel casualties accounted for two deaths each, and the other two deaths occurred in separate incidents.
The largest number of crew member fatalities is attributed to falls overboard (79 of 164, 48%). The second largest number is attributed to asphyxiation (27 of 164, 16%). While the annual number of fatalities for all accident types has steadily decreased, the number of fatalities due to falls overboard has recently shown a slight decrease as well.
Oil Spill Volume and Rate
According to Coast Guard records, 84,319 gallons of oil were spilled as a result of 49 tank barge pollution incidents in 2017. The three largest spills accounted for 99% of the total volume of oil spilled from tank barges in 2017. The projected oil spill rate for 2017 is approximately 1.13 gallons of oil spilled for every million gallons transported, or one gallon of oil spilled for every 885,000 gallons transported.
Overall, the oil spill rate continues to be relatively low, considering the overall volumes transported, and that oil volumes transported by barge have increased 17.7% over the past six years (2011-2016). The largest spill was the result of an explosion and fire aboard a barge at an Aransas Pass anchorage, offshore Corpus Christi. An explosion and fire occurred while retrieving the barge’s anchor. The initial explosion released 79,506 gallons, and a post-accident lighterage operation spilled an additional 420 gallons, for a total of 79,926 gallons of spilled Bonito Crude. This incident accounted for 95% of the total oil spilled in 2017. The projected oil spill rate for 2017 is approximately 1.13 gallons of oil spilled for every million gallons transported, or one gallon of oil spilled for every 885,000 gallons transported.
Severity of Vessel Incidents
A vessel incident is defined as one involving a towing vessel or barge engaged in carrying freight. Incidents where ONLY a crewmember death, personnel injury or operational spill occurred are not included in this measure since they are included in other sections of this report.
In 2017, there were 934 towing vessel incidents, of which 82% were classified as low severity incidents. Medium and high severity incidents represented 10% and % , respectively. There was a 24% decrease in investigated towing vessel incidents from 2016 to 2017.
From 2014 through 2017, there has been a 45% reduction in all Reportable Marine Casualties reported to the Coast Guard. Over those same years, the towing vessel industry has experienced a 48% reduction in reported incidents.
In 2017, there were 92 medium and 75 high severity Reportable Marine Casualty incidents. From 2016 to 2017, the combined number of medium and high severity incidents decreased by 12% (from 190 to 167). Although the high severity incidents increased by 7% and medium severity incidents decreased by 23%, the 24-year trend line slope for both metrics continues in a decreasing direction.
Download the pdf report: USCG-American-Waterways-Operators-Annual-Safety-Report