Harbour tug pulled over during attempt to help tall ship in distress

In a spectacular incident on Monday that involved a tall ship, a tug and a bridge, a harbour tug was girted by its own line while attempting to help a vessel in distress at the port of Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Brazilian tall ship Cisne Branco had got out of control on the Guayas River on October 18th a short time after leaving the port of Guayaquil. The ship was aiming for an opening in the on the Isla Santay Bridge, a recently-built pedestrian bridge connecting the island to downtown Guayaquil. Unfortunately, it missed it.

Two tugs were already present – one a large modern harbour tug, the other a smaller traditional tug. They manoeuvred to assist. While the larger tug took a position upstream and made up to the Cisne Blanco’s stern, the smaller one stayed downstream and made fast to the tall ship’s bow.

Within about 10 seconds the Altar yawed sideways and was girted by the line. It was pulled back and rolled over to port side, before finally capsizing and sinking. The other tug, on the starboard side, retreated underneath the bridge. The incident with the tug appeared to occur as the large tug pulled Blanco away from the bridge, with the smaller tug yanked along stern-first by its tow line.

The sailing vessel came to rest beam-to on the Isla Santay Bridge, a recently-built pedestrian bridge connecting the island to downtown Guayaquil. Mobile phone footage showed that Cisne Blanco drifted into the second span from the bridge’s western end, missing the open drawbridge by about 400ft.

The Cisne Blanco’s starboard side was pushed partially underneath the construction. The ship tilted heavily after getting stuck, but with the assistance of other tugs eventually was returned to an even keel. By mid-afternoon the vessel was freed from the bridge and secured.

The accident looked to have been caused by a very strong current, perhaps also a technical breakdown, and possibly some manoeuvring control miscalculations.

The ship later returned to the dock of the Yacht Club at Guayaquil for inspections and investigations. No injuries were reported, but the ship suffered damage to the masts and ratchet.

At the site of the tug’s sinking, containment barriers were laid out to prevent possible contamination of the river. The Ecuadorian Navy was working with divers from the Marine Corps to refloat the wreck.

The Isla Santay bridge apparently had been criticized as a potential hazard to navigation even before its construction. It has been struck by marine traffic three times in the past, once in 2017 and twice in 2018.