799 million tons of material were transported via barge, at an average of
1500 tons per barge and 15 barges per fleet, that’s 35500 barge trips per year or
nearly 100 trips each day. Unless a barge can pick up a second load for the return
trip, called a "back-haul," it usually returns empty. A sample back-haul would be
when covered hopper barges carry grains down-river to New Orleans, are emptied and
then are loaded with commodities, such as fertilizer or steel, for the north-bound
In an email dated February 24th, Mr. David Hanby, President & Chief Operating
Officer of McDonough Marine Service, wrote
“there are many different ways that barges (and cargo) get moved. When we move cargo
for most of our customers it usually is based on the customer paying to return the
both the tug and the barge back to their original locations. It is possible to be
able to put a couple of different projects together to take advantage of the positioning
of the equipment, providing cost savings to the various customers."
But barges/tows are not the only marine vessels on our inland waterways. Other
commercial vessels such as container ships, tankers, fishing vessels and dredges,
as well as recreational vessels use the inland waterways. Consequently, waterways
are very busy with all kinds of traffic, and it is hardly surprising that accidents
involving barges/tows sometimes occur.
The picture above shows a tow of empty hopper barges transiting the Monongahela
River. Although there can up to a quarter mile between the towboat and the lead
barge, a 2003 study by Bridge Allision Study Group found that bridge allisions
occur in only 6 out of 10,000 transits and most of them are inconsequential. One
of the reasons for this is that the Coast Guard approves the designs of bridges
over navigable waterways. The author of the website, Route 99, took the picture because she was very impressed
with both the enormous size of the barges as they approached and the phenonmenal
amount of coal that they could carry.
On January 20th, 2006, Mr. Hanby wrote that, "accidents that happen under a tow
are not necessarily influenced by whether they [the barges] are under loaded or
unloaded conditions." Mr. Sheffler concured on February 23rd that whether a barge
was loaded or empty was not part of the accident data since a fleet might have a
mixture of barges, both loaded and unloaded.
In a February 26th email, Mr. Doug Scheffler, AWO’s manager of research and data
"the Risk Based Decision Making Subgroup (a safety study group of the Coast Guard)
found that towing vessel incidents, although rare, had the possibility for severe
consequences in terms of monetary loss, oil spilled, and personal casualties."
In an email dated January 18th, 2006, Mr. Hanby stated that
"it is up to the captain to determine “safe operating conditions” – subject to the
navigation rules published by the United States Coast Guard and any local port restrictions
that may be in place. The captain makes his decision based on such factors as the
distance the barge has to travel, if it is on a lake or in a moving body of water,
if it is loaded or in light condition, and the horsepower of his tug and its ability
to safely handle the tow."
Nevertheless, accidents involving towboats and barges so occur on the inland waterways.
Earlier, on February 20th, Mr. Hanby stated,
"Repair of barges is a fairly substantial portion of our budget, but is not limited
to repair of damages. It will also consist of maintenance repairs that are a consequence
of the age and/or preventative work to prolong its life. By the same token, repair
of damages can vary quite a bit from year to year depending on the number of “accidents”
that occur. The value of those repairs is also going to be based on the severity
of the accident as well.
If our device could improved the maneuverability of a barge fleet and thereby
prevent some of the accidents, insurance companies might reduce insurance values
and barge companies will save money on both insurance premiums and repairs.
Hull insurance is primarily focused on physical damage to the barge and Protection
& Indemnity insurance is focused on liabilities to other people or property that
may be damaged by the barge.… our costs for hull, p&i, and excess insurance coverages
run about $600,000 per year on our fleet (approx. 600 barges)."
The graphs shown below give an industry-wide perspective of the monetary damages
of towing accidents. The graphs are based on data from the Risk Based Decision Making
Subgroup1 and illustrate the dollar amounts associated
with the “events” involved in barge accidents on American inland waterways between
the years 1994-2003.
- If an allision was reported as at least
one of the events in the accident.
- If a collision was reported as at least
one of the events in the accident.
- If vessel maneuverability was reported as at least one of the events in the accident.
- If vessel maneuverability but not an allision or a collision was reported as at
least one of the events in the accident.
The data shows a persistent pattern of monetary damages across the study period,
with occasional spikes in the millions of dollars. This shows that accidents involving
manueverability, especially those involving allisions and collisions, are a good
target for safety solutions.
In an email dated February 25, 2006, Mr. Scheffler stated
"the Risk Based Decision Making Subgroup developed a dataset of vessel casualties
from 1994-2003 and used it to develop causal analyses. These analyses aggregated
the casualties across the entire study period. Your group is the first to execute
a time series analysis using this casualty data--this is something the Risk Based
Decision Making Subgroup did not have time to research. By regulation, loss of vessel
maneuverability should be reported to the Coast Guard, regardless of any resulting
damages. Your looking at the dollar amount is a good way to eliminate any inconsequential
loss of maneuverability incidents."
Earlier in an email dated February 23, 2006, he stated
"Improving the maneuverability of a tow will save dollars because it will reduce
the number of accidents."
"What your group is doing is exactly what the safety professionals in the industry
do—identify a piece of the safety puzzle and try to devise a solution."
We are hoping that our centerboard will help
minimize the number of accidents caused by the difficulty in maneuvering unloaded
barges. This could be done by reducing the fleet's turning radius, by increasing
its directional stability, and by just making it a "little easier" for the pilot
to respond to situations as they unfold.
AWO: Total Tons Moved by Barge, 1991-2002
2002 Pennsylvania Boating Accident Analysis
National Transportation Safety Board: Highway-Maine Accident
NewsOK.com: Safeguards for bridges suggested
Route 99: Links Across America
email correspondence: January 18, 2006
email correspondence: January 20, 2006
email correspondence: February 20, 2006
email coorespondence: February 24, 2006
email correspondence: February 23, 2006
email correspondence: February 25, 2006
email coorespondence: February 26, 2006
1U.S. Coast Guard data,
edited and compiled by the Risk Based Decision Making Subgroup, supplied via e-mail
with the permission of David Dickey, Program Analyst, Office of Investigations and
Analysis, U.S. Coast Guard