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When The Wire Breaks!

We’ve had an increasing number of hits lately coming from web searches for “emergency towing for barges”, or something like it, so it’s time to cover this subject. You’ll find the regulations you’re looking for at 33 CFR § 155.230 – Emergency control systems for tank barges.

Single-skin tank barges (manned or not) must have an operable anchoring system, repeat: operable, that meets the requirements of 46 CFR 32.15-15. Why such emphasis on the word operable? Because if the anchoring system is inoperable then events like this can happen. On the U.S. West Coast the option of heavy surge gear and bridle legs is an acceptable substitute because, in general, the continental shelf drops off very close to shore and the extreme depths make anchoring an impossibility.

All tank barges must have an emergency retrieval system on either the barge or the tug, or a Coast Guard-approved alternative measure or system. Since the regulation states that “the towing vessel must have on board equipment to regain control of the barge and continue towing (using the emergency towline), without having to place personnel on the barge” you can generally expect to see a system consisting of an emergency hawser (often made of soft line) on the tug and a pre-rigged emergency wire hawser on the barge, which would be positioned along the deck on one side or the other and secured with metal bands or tack welded pieces of angle iron or half-round, with the socket end near the stern. If the barge is unmanned a floating, graduated pick-up line connected to the barge’s emergency hawser must be deployed astern at the beginning of the voyage. It trails behind the barge during the tow and, if the tow wire should part, the tug’s crew will use it to pull the end of the barge’s hawser on deck so that the tug’s emergency hawser can be shackled into it. Once connected, the tug will slowly pull away from the barge and the securing bands or angle iron/half-round will pop loose under strain and release the wire. Once the wire is completely free the tow may resume normally, we hope.

Q. Where does this rule apply? A. On the territorial seas of the U.S., which would be from the baseline out to 12 nautical miles, and Long Island Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Admiralty Inlet north of Marrowstone Point.

Q. Does it apply to all tank barges? A. No, there are some exceptions. Barges that are being towed alongside or pushed ahead and have COI’s that restrict them to service “in fair weather only, within 20 miles of shore” are exempt. The same exemption applies to barges in Great Lakes service, towed alongside or pushed ahead, with COI’s restricting them to operating “in fair weather only, within 5 miles of a harbor.” What qualifies as fair weather? The OCMI “may” (or may not) define that term on the COI.

Q. What about inspections? A. As per 33 CFR § 155.230(b)(2)(iii) you must inspect the rig annually. You must also maintain it in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. See the Wired and Unchained posts for how to inspect and maintain wire rope and stud link chain in accordance with the U.S. Navy Towing Manual, the technical bible for towing.

Q. What about drills? A. As per 33 CFR § 155.230(b)(2)(iv), “barge-retrieval drills must take place annually, and not more than one month after a master or mate responsible for supervising barge retrieval begins employment on a vessel that tows tank barges.” The “drills” do not require that you actually deploy the system. A walk-through and discussion will suffice, but remember to log it in the vessel’s official log. It’s also a good idea to log it in the tow wire log as well so that all the related information is in one place for quick reference.

So that’s it. If anyone out there knows of a CG-approved “alternative system” we’d love to hear about it and spread the word. Pictures and/or video is better still…..

#RequiredDrills #TankBargeRetrievalSystems #EmergencyTowing #TowWireInspection #EmergencyControlSystemsForTankBarges #DoublehulledBarges #SingleskinBarges

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