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Low transverse stability was reported on this vessel prior to the accident, but no action was taken to investigate the cause of the low stability. After the accident, it was found that a crack in the forepeak created a large free surface, which caused a substantial reduction in stability.

  • The location:
  • San Jacinto River, Texas, downstream of the I-10 Bridge.

  • The circumstances:
  • The M/V Thoroughbred", an uninspected 55' push boat was navigating downstream light boat, when the captain observed a barge apparently aground crossway in the river channel, with the bow of the barge nosed into the east bank. He decided to provide assistance to the two tugboats that were attempting to refloat the barge.

  • The vessel:
  • A push boat built in 1972, length: 55'. Beam: 20'. Draft 7' - 3". Propulsion: twin Detroit Diesel engines.

  • The disaster:
  • The push boat capsized and sunk and the three crewmembers ended up under the barge. The current dragged them until 2 of them surfaced on the other side of the barge. One crewmember drowned.

  • The maneuver prior capsizing:
  • The M/V Thoroughbred approached the port side of the barge that was aground and attempted a sharp turn to port to avoid contacting the barge. This turn resulted in substantial angle of heel to port, which put the port side of the deck underwater. Under this condition, any stability restoring moment that the vessel may have had was cancelled by the capsizing moment created by the turning maneuver and by the force of the current being applied to the portion of the deck that was underwater, and the vessel continued capsizing and sinking under the barge, with the three crewmembers aboard.

  • What caused the push boat to capsize:
  • The operating crew and the port engineer were aware that this push boat had very low initial stability, since the vessel was noted to develop a large angle of heel when turning. As a mater of fact, it was reported to the port engineer that when the vessel was pushing a barge connected to the barge by the wires controlled by deck winches and making a turn, the winches on the boat freewheel out "causing bulwarks to submerge".

    In other words, the vessel was taking an unusually large angle of heel when turning, creating substantial tension in the connecting wires causing the winches to release wire by overpowering the brakes of the winch.

    Furthermore, after the vessel was salvaged, it was noted that the "barnacle line" created after the last dry-docking, did not coincide with the antifouling paint applied during the last dry-docking, indicating a loss of forward freeboard of some 6" at the bow.

    Also, the operating crew noted that this boat was "bow heavy" when compared with similar boats, but were not able to identify the reason for this condition.

    After casualty, it was concluded that the forepeak was damaged and was flooded for an extended period of time, but no one investigated the condition of the forepeak and/or the change of trim and/or freeboard, during about one year in service since the last dry-docking.

    In addition to the above developments due to the flooding of the forward peak (i.e.: a). Reduction of freeboard; and b). Increase of trim forward).

    The original design had two large athwartship tanks (fresh water diesel), which created large free surfaces, highly detrimental to transversal stability.


Certain laws concerning the safety of vessels are administered by agencies other than the USCG. The Supreme Court accepted last year the OSHA rules apply on uninspected vessels. Hence, OSHA can have jurisdiction on uninpected vessels. At the same time, OSHA and USCG Marine Safety officers are establishing a collaborative relationship to foster safer maritime workplace. The USCG has authority to conduct inspections to enforce standards or regulations governing the Occupational Safety and Health of seamen aboard vessels covered under the vessel inspection laws of the USA.

OSHA enforces workplace safety and health standards on vessels that do not require Coast Guard inspections. In other words, OSHA covers all working conditions that are not addressed by safety and health regulation of another federal agency under other legislation.

The OSH Act requires employers to comply with safety and health standards, but also, the OSH Act includes a "General Duty Clause", which applies to hazards not addressed by any specific OSHA standard. The General Duty Clause requires employers to provide their employees with a work place that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

In other words, even in areas where OSHA has not set forth a standard addressing a specific hazard, employers are responsible for complying with the OSH Act's "General Duty Clause".

Under OSHA, a serious violation is a violation where a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and where the employers knew or should have known of the hazard.


It is well known that the maritime doctrine of seaworthiness imposes an absolute, nondelegable duty upon the owner-operator of a vessel to provide a vessel, equipment and crew that are reasonable suited for the intended purpose.

The owner of a vessel has the duty of providing the employee-operator of the vessel, a vessel that remains safe under any foreseeable circumstance. This has been historically the philosophy adopted by the Maritime Industry. For instance, if the vessel sustains a steering gear failure and the vessel drifts with the current until it contacts an obstruction and becomes at rest across the current, the vessel must have sufficient stability, freeboard (reserve of buoyancy) to remain afloat.

While the U. S. Coast Guard does regulate fire extinguishers, life preservers and emergency equipment on uninspected vessels, these regulations fail to address overall safety.

Owners and managers of uninspected vessels are regulated by both the USCG and OSHA. Owners should review their workplace safety policies to make sure that they meet, at a minimum, the applicable USCG and OSHA requirements.

Owners have the obligation of removing any recognized hazard that is likely to cause death or serious physical harm.


1). Stability should not be taken for granted.

2). A qualified person should always investigate observations made by the operating crew regarding handling of a vessel.

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Hector Pazos, is a Naval Architect, Marine Engineer and a Registered Mechanical Engineer and has been engaged in Accident Investigation/Reconstruction for more than 40 years. He has been retained as an Expert Witness in over 1,200 Maritime cases, related to both commercial vessels and pleasure crafts, for both defense and plaintiff.

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