Failure of towing arrangement on tug Englishman while towing general cargo vessel Germania with loss of 1 life

Location: 30 miles south of Isle of Wight, England.

Completed PE Summary: Englishman

A short summary of the accident and action taken:

Merchant Vessel/Accident Details
Vessel Name Englishman
Ship Owner/Manager SMS Towage Ltd
Port of Registry Hull
Flag UK
Classification Society American Bureau of Shipping
Type Tug
Built 2006
Construction Steel
Length Overall 28m
Gross Tonnage 329
Date/Time 22/05/2008, approximately 0254 (UTC)
Location of Incident English Channel, 30 miles south of the Isle of Wight
Incident Type Accident to person
Persons Onboard 7 crew
Injuries/Fatalities 1 fatality
Damage/Pollution Minor damage to a bracket on the starboard “Norman” pin socket


The Liberian-registered 8721 grt general cargo ship Germania had experienced steering gear failure in the English Channel, and was being towed eastwards to Rotterdam by the tug Englishman. The tow was progressing slowly due to shearing exacerbated by the inability to control Germania’s rudder.

A tow wire protector or “chafer” was being used on Englishman to prevent the wire chafing on the bulwark rail. The “chafer” was not fixed to the wire, but had a shackle at either end, connected by a length of chain with a rope tied off at the winch, to try to prevent the “chafer” from sliding along the wire and off the rail.

At around 0240 UTC, the “chafer” slipped outboard of the bulwark rail, and the bosun went alone onto the working deck to re-position it back onto the rail. The “chafer” was initially pulled inboard of the rail and, as the tug was manoeuvred to dip the starboard quarter to allow the “chafer” to be pushed back into position, the aft shackle on the “chafer” arrangement became caught on a bracket on the vessel’s stern bulwark rail. As the bracket bent, the shackle freed itself, and the tow wire jumped around a metre to starboard. Although not witnessed, due to visibility constraints from the wheelhouse, part of the towing arrangement struck the bosun, who received fatal head injuries.

Action taken

The Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents has written to:

  • SMS Towage Ltd, acknowledging the various modifications being made to Englishman following the accident, including modifications to: the “Norman Pin” sockets on the stern bulwark rail; the on board communication system; the aft deck lighting and the introduction of a CCTV system. The company was strongly advised to undertake a review of the risk assessments for its vessels to ensure they are vessel specific and consider in detail the towing operation’s, these risk assessments should be regularly reviewed.

  • British Tugowners Association and the National Workboat Association, requesting that the issues identified following this accident are disseminated to their members, and consideration is given to the development of an industry-wide guide to best practice in towage.

Published: July 2008

Published 23 January 2015