Putting to sea, in any craft and at any time, is inherently dangerous to some degree: we’re bipeds that can’t extract oxygen from the water, so we don’t really belong there. The skill requirements for competently operating towing vessels are significantly higher than what is generally required aboard other types of vessels. Conventional hawser towing and ship-assist work, in particular, have physical dynamics that place these activities at the higher end of the risk scale, which is why significant relevant experience is needed and, in the U.S.A., completion of a TOAR is a required part of the training process.
As many of you may have heard, the ASD tractor tug Fairplay 22 was capsized on the late afternoon of November 11th while assisting the ferry Stena Britannica into Hoek van Holland, at the mouth of the Nieuwe Waterweg near Rotterdam, in bad weather. Two of the five crewmen aboard, the captain and the chief engineer, lost their lives.
“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” – Mississippi River steamboat pilot Samuel Langhorne Clemens
Twenty four years ago, on March 22, 1986, the USS Secota (YTM-415), a reclassified former Navy YTB, was conducting a personnel transfer with the USS Georgia, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, near Midway Island. The tug lost power and drifted back along the hull of the sub, which to no avail attempted to accelerate and turn out of the situation, until coming into contact with the starboard stern plane, which opened her right up. At the 3:47 mark, with the tug going down fast by the stern, comes one of the all-time classic observations: “There goes the mail.” Unfortunately, more than just the mail was lost. Two sailors, both of them engineers, were killed.
So be careful out there…..we all want to go home, hopefully with all of our body parts intact, at the end of our hitch.