Another Tug Rams Another Cutter in the Panama Canal

USCGC Thetis damage sustained in a collision in the Panama Canal 2 June 2016

USCGC Thetis was damaged when struck in the stern by a barge pushed by a tug in the Panama Canal on 2 June, 2016. Now there was a similar accident 18 April 2017. USCGC Tampa was struck in stern by a tug owned by the Panama Canal Authority. My first thought was that perhaps tug operators were being paid by the Drug cartels to disable cutters headed for the transit zone, but in fact Tampa had already finished her deployment to the Eastern Pacific.

Tampa was north bound in Miraflores Lake when the tug Cerro Santiago, south bound, having passed Tampa starboard to starboard, made an abrupt 180 and hit Tampa on the stern 29 minutes after midnight.

The tug master claimed he had fallen asleep. The NTSB  investigation found his claim of fatigue credible, working overtime, at the end of a seventh 8 hour workday, in a stressful environment.

Damage was relatively minor in both accidents, $170,018 in the case of Tampa‘s collision, but still there are lessons to be learned.

“Coast Guard Actions Postaccident:

“The Tampa added a written instruction on the vessel’s port entry checklist that requires the watchstander to verify that the AIS is operating in non-encrypted mode. (AIS was still encrypted when the collision occurred.–Chuck) In addition, for future transits of the canal, the Tampa’s aft lookout will be equipped with an air horn and handheld flares, which may be used when necessary to secure the attention of any vessel not operating in accordance with the rules of navigation. The position of shipping officer also was added back to the bridge watch composition. That position, which is charged with managing input from the CIC and the dedicated lookout, was staffed during the southbound transit; however, considering the staffing in the CIC, it was deemed a redundant capability and therefore removed for the northbound transit. As an organization-wide effort, the lessons learned from this accident have been added to the Coast Guard’s briefing program and will be discussed prior to future transits of the canal during briefings conducted on Coast Guard vessels.”

Thanks to Bryant’s Maritime Consulting for bringing this to my attention.