A barge owner’s lack of inspection and maintenance led to the capsizing and sinking of a crane barge last year in the Gulf of Mexico, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said.
The crane barge Ambition was being towed when it capsized and sank on June 15, 2022, releasing an estimated 1,980 gallons of oil. No injuries were reported. The Ambition, owned by Rigid Constructors, and its crane were a total loss estimated at $6.3 million.
Due to the height of the crane, the Ambition was being towed offshore in the Gulf of Mexico to reach its destination. However, the Ambition did not have a load line certificate, exemption or designation for special service approved or issued by the U.S. Coast Guard. Before getting underway, a deckhand on the towing vessel Karen Koby conducted an inspection of the barge, noting hatch cover gaskets were not in place and not all the hatch cover lids were physically locked. At least six hatches were not covered or secured. He also noted visible hull damage.
During a post-salvage examination, investigators found a 25-foot-long separation along the weld seam between the bilge knuckle and bottom plates. At some point, a temporary repair, consisting of steel plates, had been made to the area around the separation to contain water ingress. Based on the hull plating separation and wastage on the interior bulkheads, the NTSB determined the poor hull condition was the cause of the initial flooding. According to investigators, Rigid Constructors failed to conduct permanent repairs in an area critical to hull strength, and the separation between the bottom plating and the bilge knuckle plating progressed beyond the temporary repair.
The NTSB determined the probable cause of the capsizing and sinking of the Ambition was the barge owner’s lack of hull inspection and maintenance, and not conducting permanent repairs, which resulted in the failure of the hull and subsequent flooding.
“To protect vessels and the environment, it is good marine practice for vessel owners to conduct regular oversight and maintenance of hulls, including between drydock periods,” the report said. “An effective maintenance and hull inspection program should proactively address potential steel wastage, identify hull and watertight integrity deficiencies, and ensure corrosion issues are repaired in a timely manner by permanent means.”