The master and chief mate were relatively new on the tugboat, while the crew was more experienced with the ship. The capstan was known to be slightly defective; the integrated brake was not effective enough to stop a stretched cable when towing a heavy barge. There was a temporary solution to use the capstan: a chain was connected between the cable and a hole drilled in the drum of the capstan. This locked the capstan in one position and no more cable could be released.
Connecting a barge and leaving the quay is a stressful situation with many operations that requires a well-organised team and clear procedures. In this case there was poor communication between the deckhands, who were going to connect the chain to the capstan, and the bridge. When the able body seaman connected the chain, the cable was stretched, the brake on the capstan released and the deckhand’s fingers were trapped between the drum and the shackle. The able body seaman tried to reverse the capstan but it was not possible, so he ran up on the bridge where the drive was put out of gear and the cable slackened. The deckhand’s fingers and joints were crushed, the tendons and nerves were torn and he was bleeding profusely. The use of the capstan was banned on the tugboat until it was repaired and tested, and during repairs it was discovered that it was turned 180 degrees in the wrong direction. Capstans that are used for towing must be in good condition and function as designed. It is crucial to follow the maintenance intervals and not build in any ”work-arounds”, since these temporary solutions often become permanent and lead to accidents.