Year on year, 2015 has been an extraordinarily bad year for Canadian tugboats, with six tugs sinking, in nine incidents involving the vessels on the west coast, an area that depends heavily on tug and barge transportation.
By contrast, the year before only two tugs sank, out of 11 incidents. The year before that, 2014, the total was two tugs sunk in 15 incidents. The year immediately before that, 2012, saw exactly one tug sink, out of 12 incidents.
“To quote Captain Phillip Nelson, President of the Council of Marine Mariners, ‘these boats, they just don’t sink, they shouldn’t sink,’” says Mariella Dauphinee, a marine claims manager for Intact Insurance Company, Canada, and International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) loss prevention committee member.
So, why are they sinking? The short answer – no-one knows. “At this stage we don't know why the number of losses has increased and in most cases, the cause remains unknown,” says Dauphinee.
And getting to the root of the matter is no easy feat: “In many cases these vessels are sinking in deep water, leading to suspected extensive damage. Recovery is both expensive and in many cases risky, as disturbing the vessel can result in oil emanating from the hull. ROV [remotely operated underwater vehicle] search and video inspection is not only costly but difficult to arrange due to depth restrictions and narrow weather windows.”
“In most cases the ROV video does not reveal a definite cause of the sinking and time and time again underwriters take the decision to leave the wreck where she is. What is certain, however, is that good maintenance plays a role. There needs to be effective safety management in order to identify and manage risks associated with a tug’s operation.”