Distracted Tugboat Operator Gets Prison Sentence for Causing Deadly Accident

On July 7, 2010, a tugboat-propelled barge collided with a tour boat near Philadelphia, causing the sightseeing vessel to sink. Two tourists, ages 16 and 20, lost their lives. When struck, the tour boat sat anchored as crewmembers addressed a mechanical issue.

A National Transportation Safety Board report pointed to distracted boating as the cause of the fatal maritime accident. According to phone records, the tugboat pilot, Matthew Devlin, made a call at 2:32 p.m. that lasted until 2:38 p.m. — one minute after the collision occurred. In fact, he reportedly made and received 21 calls and accessed the internet via a laptop in the two and a half hours leading up to the accident, all while on navigation watch. On the tour boat, a deckhand was texting about a minute before the accident.

According to testimony at Devlin’s sentencing hearing last fall, his young son suffered oxygen deprivation during eye surgery, the reason for his phone calls. Devlin admitted he turned down the tugboat’s radio, causing him to miss the tour boat’s distress calls. The judge, although sympathetic to Devlin’s concern for his son, said he was unable to comprehend why Devlin turned “the ship’s radios down,” noting he could have asked to be relieved. He sentenced Devlin to one year and a day in prison and three years of supervised release.

We often hear about the dangers of using a cell phone while driving, but cell phone use while boating can be just as dangerous. A distracted boater may fail to notice nearby vessels or miss urgent radio calls, which can result in a deadly maritime collision.

Did a distracted boater cause your maritime injuries? A Boston maritime attorney can help protect your legal rights.

Latti & Anderson LLP – Boston maritime trial lawyers