If you work on the water, you are probably familiar with working hard while short on sleep. But exhaustion can affect your judgment and lead to disaster, especially when coupled with bad weather and other challenges.
It now appears that crewmember fatigue was one of the main causes of the tugboat Specialist sinking last year. Three crewmembers died in the March 2016 accident, which occurred when the tugboat collided with the Tappen Zee Bridge construction site along the Hudson River north of the Bronx. The Specialist, while working with two other tugs to transport a barge with a crane on board, struck a construction barge near the bridge. Nearby workers noticed the accident and responded as quickly as possible but were unable to save any of the men on board the Specialist.
The National Transportation Safety Board recently released its report on the causes of the sinking. According to the report, the root problem was not having enough crew on board. This led to a situation where the existing crewmembers had worked multiple days in a row without enough sleep. The captain of the Specialist was helping at the helm of another insufficiently manned tug, the Realist, when the accident occurred.
According to investigators, it appeared that none of the crewmembers on either vessel could have had more than four or five hours of sleep at a time in the three days before the accident, and possibly longer. While short on sleep, the crewmembers had also faced difficult weather, poor visibility and strong currents, all of which contributed to their fatigue.
The captain and crewmembers of the Specialist were experienced mariners, but extreme fatigue likely affected their judgment. The NTSB report noted that the Specialist was increasing its speed as it approached a bridge, and that the mate incorrectly believed they had enough clearance to safely pass the construction barge.