Did ‘Antiquated’ Federal Safety Regs Lead To Deadly Kitimat Tugboat Accident?

Experts say the tragic sinking should be a wake-up call for regulators.

The investigation into why a tugboat sank near Kitimat earlier this year killing two of its three crew members is still ongoing. But some maritime experts say a lack of federal safety regulations could be a factor in the tragic accident. 

“We are grieving the loss of two men on the Ingenika, a small overmatched towboat on an impossible mission to move a large barge on a stormy February night,” Peter Lahay, national co-ordinator for the International Transport Workers’ Federation, Canada, recently told the Vancouver Province. “Someone is responsible for that, and it is not the poor crew. Transport Canada knowingly and deliberately chose the standards for these companies to operate under.” 

Federal regulations currently exempt tugboats from under 15 gross tons from annual exemptions. 

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These smaller vessels are also not required to comply with a safety management system, which the Province describes as an “internationally recognized framework that allows companies to identify and address safety risks. It can incorporate elements such as safe operating standards, a planned maintenance program, a crew training regime and how to respond to specific emergency situations.” 

This gives companies a financial incentive to use smaller tugboats to tow large barges because the costs tend to be lower, union officials say. 

“There’s a saying that there has to be blood or oil in the water to see changes in this industry,”  Jason Woods, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 400, said. “We’ve had both, and we still haven’t seen changes.”

Transport Canada said the federal government will soon be making a safety management system mandatory for all tugboat vessels, regardless of size, but hasn’t not specified when those changes will take place. 

In the meantime, vessels like the Ingenika will still be governed by “antiquated” regulations, marine architect Robert Allan told the Vancouver Sun, potentially putting their crews in danger.

“You just have to look at a photo of the Ingenika to see what little freeboard she had,” Allan said of the Kitimat tugboat that sank. “When there is minimal distance between the water and a boat’s deck, waves can easily overcome it, impacting stability and causing it to capsize… A small tug, a big load, poor weather and a lack of stability…It was a perfect storm.”

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Written by Skeena Strong

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