A K-Sea tug officer was distracted by his mobile phone and laptop in the moments leading up to a fatal collision with a tourist boat in the US.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the incident involving the 2,400-hp Caribbean Sea (built 1965) last July highlighted a growing problem with inattention among officers at sea.
The tug pushed a barge into a duck boat, killing two Hungarian tourists, Dora Schwendtner, 16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20, the Philadelphia Inquirer said.
“This accident is not just about one individual’s actions, but about a new and highly troubling societal norm,” NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman said.
“When people’s lives are in your hands, whether you’re piloting a tug, conducting a train, flying a 757, or even driving home this evening, you take responsibility by giving your full attention to the safety-critical task at hand,” Hersman said. “There is simply no conversation or action that is important enough to risk your life or the lives of others.”
The board found the probable cause of the accident was the frequent use of a cellphone and computer by the tugboat’s first mate, Matt Devlin.
He was also faulted for navigating from the lower wheelhouse, where visibility was reduced.
The first mate’s attention to a family medical crisis caused him to overlook the duck boat stranded in the river, investigators found.
A deckhand on the duck also was distracted because he was texting on his cellphone in the minutes before the accident, investigators added.
Both men were breaking their companies’ rules against such use of electronic devices.
Board member Robert Sumwalt said the use of cellphones and other electronic devices is “becoming the new DUI [driving under the influence].”
“We’re going to have to make changes in society,” Sumwalt said, “just as we did with drinking and driving and seat belts.”
Devlin told his bosses after the accident that he had been very concerned about his six-year-old son, who had nearly died during relatively routine surgery.
He made 15 calls and received six between noon and the 2:37pm crash, investigators said. He also used the computer to look up medical information.
The master of the duck tried four times to alert the tug on two radio frequencies, without success, investigators said. He was unable to sound the horn because the boat’s ignition was off, but investigators said it was unlikely the tug operator could have heard the smaller vessel’s horn anyway.
The duck was anchored in the shipping channel after being shut down because the vessel’s operator smelled smoke and feared an onboard fire.