Parting of tow rope on tug Retainer while towing barges with loss of 1 life

Location: Approach to Mucking Barge Roads, River Thames, England.

Completed PE Summary: Retainer

A short summary of the accident and action taken:

Merchant Vessel/Accident Details
Vessel Name Retainer
Port of Registry London
Flag United Kingdom
Type Tug
Built 1979
Construction Steel
Length Overall 23.55m
Gross Tonnage 119
Date/Time 03/04/2007, 1927
Location of Incident Mucking Barge Roads, River Thames
Incident Type Accident to person
Injuries/Fatalities 1 fatality
Damage/Pollution None


Retainer was employed exclusively to tow barges of containerised rubbish out of London along the Thames. The accident occurred on the last barge movement of the day, during an approach to the moorings at Mucking Barge Roads. On the approach, the tug skipper backed up to the barges and three lightermen transferred from the tug to the towed barges in preparation for coming alongside the barge mooring. There were four barges under tow, three abreast, with one barge behind. The 2 tow ropes, that were being used to tow the barges, were shortened up on the barge bitts, one to the centre barge, the other to the starboard barge. Another crewman remained on the aft deck of the tug to tend the tow ropes as required. As the weight returned to the tow ropes everything appeared normal, with the slow turn towards the mooring shaping well and the line of the tow ropes appearing fine. There was then a loud noise and a shout from the crewman on the aft deck as he was hit in the chest by one of the tow ropes. Tragically, the injuries sustained were fatal.

None of the crew on Retainer saw what happened. Both tow ropes were intact after the incident. The most likely cause of the accident was due to one of the tow ropes becoming snagged on the forward section of the barge. When the snag cleared, it transmitted a wave along the tow rope which caught the crewman in the chest with significant force.

Action taken

Recommendations have been made to the tug managers regarding the hazards of working near lines under load, the need for guidance on crew roles and responsibilities, and reviewing communication methods employed by tug and barge crews.

Published 23 January 2015