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Cell phone usage plays role in deadly accident, says NTSB

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duckboat“The deadliness of distraction” was at the heart of a collision last year between a “duck” tourboat and a sludge barge, according to an investigation conducted by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. The accident on July 7, 2010 on the Delaware River near Philadelphia, Pa., left two passengers dead and 27 others injured.

The NTSB investigators say the mate operating the tug was distracted by repeated use of his cell phone and lap top. Further, rather than being in the upper wheel house as expected, the mate was navigating from its lower wheel house where visibility of the channel ahead was limited.

“This is yet another example of the deadliness of distractions,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A. P. Hersman. “Distraction is a safety concern across all modes of transportation. Regardless of the reason, it’s not okay to multi-task while operating a vehicle – whether it’s calling, texting, or surfing the web.”

The accident, which occurred at about 2:37 pm, involved the 250-foot sludge barge The Resource, that was being towed by the 79-foot tugboat Caribbean Sea. The vessels were operated by K-Sea Transportation Partners, LP. The barge collided with the amphibious passenger boat DUKW 34, which was anchored in the channel and sank in 55 feet of water. There were 35 passengers and two crew members onboard the DUKW 34 and five crew members onboard the Caribbean Sea. Two DUKW 34 passengers were killed; 26 passengers and one crewmember suffered minor injuries. No one on board the Caribbean Sea was injured.

DUKW 34 was anchored in the channel because of an overheated engine, according to the NTSB. Further, NTSB investigators found that while duck boat owner Ride The Ducks International, LLC, had written procedures for safe operational practices and emergency situations, the master of DUKW 34 did not take all actions appropriate to address the risk of anchoring in an active navigation channel. The NTSB determined these omissions contributed to the accident.

The NTSB issued recommendations to both Ride The Ducks International, LLC, and K-Sea Transportation Partners L.P., to review its management program and develop improved means to ensure that the company’s safety and emergency procedures are adhered to by all employees.

The largest amphibious tour boat operator in the U.S., Ride the Ducks International, headquartered in Norcross, Ga., carrys some 1.2 million annually with its fleet of 90 boats in operations around the country.

The NTSB also issued recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard to increase its focus on and oversight of inappropriate use of cell phones and other wireless electronic devices by on-duty crewmembers so that such use does not affect vessel operational safety. Additionally, the NTSB issued a recommendation to the American Waterways Operators to encourage its members to ensure that their safety and emergency procedures are understood and adhered to by their employees in safety-critical positions.

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