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Tragic tugboat sinking in B.C. waters prompts safety recommendations

The TSB issued a report on its investigation two years after the sinking.
Charley Cragg, a South Delta Secondary grad, was aspiring to join the Coast Guard. He was killed on his first day on the job on the MV Ingenika.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) on Wednesday released its investigation report into the sinking of a tugboat that claimed two lives.

The TSB issued four recommendations aimed at enhancing the safety of tugs 15 gross tonnage (GT) or less.

The MV Ingenika sank in stormy waters south of Kitimat while towing a barge on Feb. 11, 2021.

Crew member Charley Cragg, 25 from Tsawwassen and captain Troy Pearson, 58, were killed, while a third crew member survived the incident.

The deaths raised again serious concerns and criticism about tugboat safety.

The vessel set out late, hauling a barge more than five times its length filled with construction equipment for a mining operation.

The vessel departed despite a forecast by Environment Canada warning of stormy weather with gale-force winds of up to 50 knots. It sank in the Gardner Canal.

The TSB notes its investigation was a class 3 investigation, which analyze a small number of safety issues, and may result in recommendations.

The TSB noted that since 2015, it has investigated six occurrences involving tugs of 15 GT or less operating on the west coast of Canada that have raised concerns around the adequacy of regulatory surveillance, a systemic safety issue that has been on the TSB Watchlist since 2010.

Safety concerns included lack of requirements for towing companies to assess risks

Currently, Transport Canada does not certify tugs 15 GT or less, nor are the vessels required to undergo regular inspections, the TSB noted, adding that the Ingenika, which had been in operation for over 50 years, had no records of the regulator performing an inspection at any point in the tug’s operational life.

“Numerous TSB investigations have found that while vessel owners and operators have the primary responsibility to manage safety, it is vital that Transport Canada provide effective oversight. Although the TSB issued a safety concern to Transport Canada in 2016, the issue of regulatory surveillance for tugs 15 GT or less persists and investigation findings continue to show that without adequate surveillance by the regulator, shortcomings in the safety management and operations of such tugs will continue to go unaddressed, leading to more accidents,” a new release explained.

“The TSB has also noted that there is currently no requirement for towing companies to assess any of the risks that might be present in their operations. This means that risks in towing operations will continue to go undetected and unmitigated, placing crews, tugs, tows, and the environment at risk.”

Its recomendations include expanding the surveillance program to include regular inspections of tugs of 15 gross tonnage or less to verify that these vessels are complying with regulatory requirements. 

Also recommended is the requirement for authorized representatives of tugs of 15 GT or less to assess the risks present in their operations, including the suitability of their tugs for the specific towing operations they are undertaking. 

At the time of the occurrence, the Ingenika was operating in a compulsory pilotage area that falls under the responsibility of the Pacific Pilotage Authority, which is mandated to establish, operate, maintain, and administer safe and efficient pilotage services in B.C., the TSB also noted, adding that the Pacific Pilotage Authority has a pilotage waiver system under which vessels may obtain waivers that exempt them from having to take a licensed pilot on board if the operators and vessels meet certain requirements. 

“However, it does not verify that the information submitted meets regulatory requirements, which leads to an increased risk that non-compliance will go undetected and compromise safety in compulsory pilotage waters,” the TSB warned.

The TSB's recomendations also include that the Pacific Pilotage Authority verify that eligibility requirements are met before issuing pilotage waivers to companies operating tugs in compulsory pilotage areas, as well as implement a process to verify ongoing compliance with waiver conditions by companies operating tugs in compulsory pilotage areas.

“The Ingenika investigation highlights ongoing concerns about safety management and regulatory surveillance, two major systemic safety issues in the transportation industry that are part of TSB Watchlist,” said Kathy Fox, Chair of the TSB. “Transport Canada needs to increase its surveillance of this vessel class and require owners and operators to assess risks adequately, and the Pacific Pilotage Authority needs to ensure that only qualified crew members and vessels are operating with pilotage waivers.”

Charges laid from the sinking

This February, charges were laid under the Workers Compensation Act, alleging violations of occupational health and safety regulations.

Eight counts were laid against Wainwright Marine Services and Bates Properties Ltd. president James Geoffrey Bates, whose company includes Wainwright Marine.

The charges include, among other things, failing to maintain protective equipment in good condition, failing to ensure the health and safety of workers and failing to provide young or new workers proper health and safety training.

Transport Canada last year had fined Wainwright $62,000 for violations related to the sinking.
In an interview with the Optimist following the announcment of the charges, Genevieve Cragg said her son Charley, who was born and raised in Tsawwassen, and his crew should never have been put in that dangerous situation.

While the charges were a good first step, unless criminal charges are laid, it sends a message to industry and marine workers that death in the workplace is the cost of doing business, she said.

It was a similar message conveyed by Jason Woods, president of ILWU Local 400 Marine Section and General Workers, who said it was disappointing Crown had not put forward more serious charges.

The union also once again issued an urgent demand for an end to what it says is Ottawa’s failed voluntary safety-inspection system, and immediate redirection of the program’s funds toward hiring inspectors to conduct mandatory inspections.

Cragg noted regulations need to be strengthened including more enforcement, mandatory inspections for vessels regardless of size as well as rules for vessels towing ships relative to their size, so smaller tugs are not having to tow huge barges.

The International Transport Workers' Federation last year also issued a statement demanding action for a safer tug industry in B.C. and Canada.