Notwithstanding all of the many other things that were wrong with the entire scenario, but were mostly not really in the crew’s power to completely control, as far as their own personal safety was concerned it came down to 1 thing that was in their control: those open doors.
Open doors always elevate risk, period, whether you’re at the dock, transiting light boat or involved in a higher-risk transit or maneuver. That’s simply a given. No amount of bluster or bullshit or excuses will change that elementary fact.
Yes, the tug(s) were underpowered, and probably unsuited for the job at hand (as in, unseaworthy). Given that and all the other circumstances they should have made that bridge transit at slack going to flood, not with a ripping ebb. With the strong fair current they should have at least slowed down to bare steerage so they could accelerate through. Yes, undermanning (and the fatigue it unavoidably induces) has always been and remains a serious problem that dogs the industry. Yes, tugs could and should be designed better. Yes, the tugs involved in general towing get less oversight and scrutiny, and tend to be in worse condition and operated more haphazardly. Yes, internal company and customer pressures drive people to make poor decisions to accept more risks than they should. Yes to all of it. Usually that doesn’t outright kill people, at least not on the spot (although long-term fatigue does kill you slowly via deteriorating general health during your career). But every once in a while all of the risk-taking allows the holes in the Swiss cheese to line up on you, and you can then very easily and quickly become a statistic. You’ll never see it coming early enough to avoid it, probably because you’ll be too tired and your judgment will be degraded.
What can you do about all of that? Fuck all, mostly. But you can close the damned doors. Really close them, as in fully dogged down. Do that simple thing and even if everything else goes completely to shit on you, you just might get to go home more or less in one piece.
I hope I never see or hear about another one of these happening again, but somehow I just know I will. I guess that makes me a realist.