NTSB Determines Cause of 2020 Towboat Accident
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) completed its investigation of the November 22, 2020, accident involving barges towed by the Trent Joseph and George C and the Barataria Bridge near Barataria, Louisiana.
The towing vessels Trent Joseph and George C were towing two barges southbound in the Barataria Waterway. While passing through the open Barataria Bridge, the second barge contacted the bridge’s swing span. The bridge, which was the only means of road access for the community of Barataria, was damaged and remained unusable until November 28. There were no injuries and no pollution reported. Damage to the barge was negligible, while damage to the bridge was reported to be more than $500,000.
Both the Barataria Bridge’s center and east fenders had red navigation lights to mark the ends and middle of each fender. The east fender’s red lights were removed for repair before the accident. The captain of the Trent Joseph stated that, as the tow approached the bridge, the two red lights marking the center fender that should have been visible to him were not. He used a spotlight to look for the fenders when approaching the bridge. When the Trent Joseph was about 100 feet from the bridge, the captain saw with the spotlight that the swing span had “over-rotated” and extended past the center fender wall. Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development maintenance records indicated that two days before the accident work had been conducted on the bridge’s limit switches (which prevent the movement of the swing span beyond a predetermined point).
Investigators determined the probable cause of the contact of the tow of the Trent Joseph with the Barataria Bridge was a corner of the bridge’s swing span protruding outside of its protective fendering into the navigable channel after recently attempted repairs to the limit switch system that controlled the swing span’s rotation limit.