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Coast Guard urges towing operators to make sure their barges are lit

Mar 5, 2015 02:12 PM

To reduce the number of commercial and recreational vessels striking moored barges, the U.S. Coast Guard has issued a Marine Safety Alert reminding the towing industry that barges must have proper lighting. 

Changes to the agency’s Inland Navigation Rules, published in July 2014, amend Rule 30 concerning “anchored, aground and moored barges” to include lighting requirements elsewhere. Fleet owners and operators are urged to light barges to comply with these rules, along with those in Title 33, Code of Federal Regulations, Parts 162 and 165. They are also encouraged to meet lighting needs under permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and regional authorities.

The alert was developed by the Coast Guard’s Eighth District in New Orleans. Safety alerts are issued to advise the public quickly of a latent, unsafe condition that can cause incidents if no immediate action is taken, said Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Denning of the district’s Inspections and Investigations Branch. “The lighting alert reviews the minimum provisions that all barge owners and operators must meet as we strive to prevent casualties,” Denning said.

In the Eighth District alone, 44 recreational vessels have struck moored barges within fleets in the past 12 years, resulting in 26 fatalities and 44 injuries. “Additionally, a number of allisions involving commercial vessels with moored barges occurred, though that data wasn’t included in this particular alert,” Denning said.

The safety alert doesn’t necessarily mean that noncompliance with lighting rules is pervasive or a major cause of vessels striking moored barges, said Roy Murphy, civilian subject-matter expert with the Towing Vessel National Center of Expertise (TVNCOE) in Paducah, Ky. Instead, the alert calls attention to something the barge industry can control. He stressed the importance of lighting.

“At night and in restricted visibility, the lights on other vessels, dock pilings, bridges, obstructions and moored barges make an operator aware of his presence and location,” Murphy said. “That awareness, combined with local knowledge, training and skill, allows him to take necessary actions.”

At night, a vessel operator depends on lights to indicate hazards posed by moored barges and to mark the limits of dangers, Murphy said. In daylight, reduced visibility because of fog and other conditions can greatly impact barges. “Location and positions of moored barges are more apparent in daylight but the consequences of an allision are the same, day or night,” he said.

Lighting requirements for barges are found in Title 33, Code of Federal Regulations, Subchapter E, Inland Navigation Rules. Additional rules for lights are in 46 CFR Subchapter C and 46 CFR Subchapter J. Under these standards, barges in each of the following situations must display lights at night and in restricted visibility: any barge projecting into a buoyed or restricted channel; any barge moored so that it reduces the navigable width of a channel to less than 80 meters; any barge not moored parallel to the bank or dock; and barges moored in groups of more than two of them wide, or to a maximum width of 25 meters.

Barges in these situations must carry two unobstructed, all-around or 360-degree white lights, visible for at least 1 nm, in the following arrangements: any barge that projects from a group formation must be lighted on its outboard corners; a single moored barge in water where other vessels navigate on both sides of the barge must have lights on its corners; barges in groups, moored in water where other vessels navigate on both sides of the group, must be lit on the group’s corners.

Under the federal Clean Water Act and Army Corps regulations, a permitting process is required for any structure impacting a navigable waterway, including barge fleeting areas, said Cmdr. Patrick Nelson of the TVNCOE. The Coast Guard supports the Corps in new permit evaluations and re-evaluation reviews. The Coast Guard may identify other steps needed for safety or navigation.

Civil penalties for barge lighting violations are up to $8,000 each. As payment for a penalty, a vessel may be seized by a district court of the United States.

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