The Scourge of the American Petroleum Tankers That Prowl the British Columbia Coast - by INGMAR LEE (U.S. ATBs)


3.0 Findings

3.1 Findings as to causes and contributing factors

  1. The second mate, who was working alone on the bridge, was fatigued.
  2. The second mate fell asleep and did not make the planned course alteration, and the articulated tug-barge struck and grounded on a reef.
  3. The navigational alarms were not used and a bridge navigational watch alarm system was not available; the use of these could have prevented the second mate from falling asleep and provided a warning to other crew members.
  4. The other crew member on watch was not on the bridge and did not reach the wheelhouse prior to the grounding.
  5. Following the grounding, and after several hours of continuous interaction between the tug’s hull and the reef, the hull breached and released diesel oil into the environment.
  6. The pollution boom around the tug did not contain the diesel oil; approximately 110 000 L of diesel oil were not recoverable and were left in the environment.

Tug was grinding on the rocks independent of the barge.


No cargo anywhere close to where the pins connect to the ladders in the barge. And no fuel tanks in the pin rooms. If anything it could have been much worse if it was a wire boat since the two vessels would be moving independently.


Or it might have been much better. The barge might have slewed and pulled the bow off the rocks, there might have been time for the now awake mate to do something.

Back when there were only wire boats working the inside there were many stories of sleeping mates waking up to see trees then get pulled off the beach by the barge.


BNWAS and ECDIS can be, and are installed on some tugs. I hear that Crowley has Transas Navisailor 4000 on its large tugs, both. the wire boats and the ATBs. I haven’t heard about them having BNWAS but I would not be surprised if they do.

There were so many similar fishingboat accidents 40 years ago that insurance companies mandated watch alarms. Some tugs have them.

I’m sure that Nathan Stewart must have had a chart plotter with features that were close enough to ECDIS. Most mates would get lost in five minutes without a plotter. It sounds like they might have had a watch alarm but didn’t use it.

The AB on watch is probably also a tankerman, so in that case he probably thought he was too important for lookout duties. Probably, he was begrudgingly busy cooking and cleaning.

One of the problems with the upper house on most tugs is that they are a long way up from the rest of the boat and the AB is not going to climb up and check on the mate very often. A second problem is that the upper house is often far too cramped for two people. Some upper houses are really cramped under equipped after thoughts. Actually, the Nathan Stewart upper house looks decent sized.


Or the barge may have been floating around and causing the still connected tug to grind on the ledge.

The people that write these reports don’t know what they are doing. They do not collect or analyze the right information. The conclusions are often wrong and usually inadequate.


That’s true, but solid steel plates are still the best way to connect the fore and mid body of a ship to the aft body.


No disagreement there. For most trades, anything an ATB can do, a tanker could do better and cheaper, except for the extra crew cost.

One benefit of a tanker is that it does not have a remote undersized and under equipped upper house.

The primary benefit to a tanker is having a full crew.


It is about time to install a dead man’s handle on those ATB’s but then the modern version where you have to push a button at regular intervals, say every 20 minutes. If not pressed after that time a wheelhouse alarm is activated only to be switched of by pushing the button again. If after for instance 3 minutes the alarm is not switched off a general alarm will sound. On some Dutch sea going fishery ships they have that installed.

Keep your weight on the Dead Man’s Handle
Or the wheels won’t hold the rail
Keep your weight on the Dead Man’s Handle
Or the steam brake’s bound to fail

The Dutch freezer trawler KW174


Crew comfort, the Snowbird was primitive as far acomadations but good for engine noise, vessel motion. No worries about TOAR or having to break out etc. Capt Doug managed to always avoid the worse of it but it did well in heavy weather, I was never the least bit worried.

Nice big wheelhouse where the chief could come up for coffee and chat. Sometimes small things mean a lot.


Most fishing boats in Alaska have a watch alarm that the captain can set and lock with a key. If the button is not pushed every so many minutes an alarm sounds in the wheelhouse. If it isn’t pushed in about 30 seconds more an alarm sounds that will wake everyone.


Nice looking boat. I prefer house midships to aft designs over the house forward designs.

After looking this boat over on a larger screen and expanding the details. I can see that she is a purse seiner with a Norwegian Triplex powerblock midships and series of transport blocks that pull the seine aft to the net bin. She also has trawl doors high up on the stern. I don’t see a seine in the net tub either. Apparently she is set up to either purse seine or midwater trawl for herring.


My understanding is based on conversations with an ATB operator in Vancouver who saw the recovered Nathan E. Stewart and was part of that effort. He told me that the tug wasn’t grounded initially.

  • First the barge grounded, the pins were fuct, water came in from the damaged articulation point.
  • Second the tug lost buoyancy and sank. When it came to rest on the bottom, that’s when most of the hull damage occurred and she began to leak diesel, hydraulic, and lube oils.

If she wasn’t an ATB she would have remained afloat.


You forgot the advantage of being one unit. (No tow wire and no connecting pins)
Tankers comes in all sizes and shapes. Some are purpose built for a specific trade.
If you need shallow draft, build longer and wider for the same DWT.
Crew qualification and size requirements varies with size and trade (As well as flag state)
In territorial waters regulations in specific area of operation is set by the coast state.

There is nothing in international maritime law that stops Canada from regulating and setting standard for any vessel that operate along it’s coasts. But whether they have the will and capacity to enforce such regulation is another question. (??)


That is substantial new information. If that’s the case, this would be a rare instance where the ATB would be less desirable than a regular tug.

When the barge is aground, but the tug is not, it’s an advantage to be able to disconnect the tug and remove it to safety. Or use it in different positions to try to get the barge off.


I would think so too. I was standing forward of the engine room next to the pin on this operator’s new ATB when he explained it to me. I could just imagine cold water pouring in in the middle of the night. Gave me the heebie-jeebies. From the moment the barge grounded, there wasn’t anything they could do except try to dewater. They couldn’t disconnect safely and try another angle. All they could do was run pumps. I don’t know much about ATBs, but it’d be hard for me to be convinced that they’re safe after imagining what this accident looked like from inside the hull.


I wonder about a collision, presumably most of the energy would be absorbed by the barge but it would be bad news if sufficient energy transmitted back through the pins to tweak them bad enough to cause more damage in that area.


Right, where-as I’d expect a non-ATB to just react backwards from the barge, like a Newton’s cradle.


Most purpose-built ATBs I have seen have a BNWAS and ECDIS (or at least a chart plotter). Easy enough to turn off the BNWAS. Not all systems are fool proof. If the AB was supposed to be in the wheelhouse and wasn’t, he or she was part of the problem. Look at the ATBs Crowley runs (550,650 class) for examples of properly run units with all necessary equipment, and ample wheelhouse space. Totally different than a conversion from a wire boat with a tiny upper wheelhouse.


There are also other advantages with ships vs. tug/barge combination:

  • Faster transit and less weather dependency
  • Better fuel economy
  • Safer operation. (= lower insurance cost)

I realise that US manning requirements are different from European standard.

Here is a new coastal tanker trading along the Norwegian coast from Bergen to Baatsfjord in Finnmark, a distance of abt. 900 n.miles along the inside route and in weather that is not much different from that of Alaska:
Cargo capacity: 750 Cbm. Loaded speed >11 kts.

The crew size is 4(FOUR)
Min. required qualifications for this vessel is:


The Norwegian built, Norwegian designed vessel is much better looking than Norwegian designs? How does that logic work?