Tug boat plot thickens: Crewman takes Fifth

The second-in-command of the tug boat steering the barge that crushed a Ride the Ducks boat last week refused to speak with federal investigators over the weekend, exercising his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

The unidentified “mate” may have been in the wheelhouse at the time of the crash — which in nautical terms means he was driving the tug — but an official with K-Sea Transportation, which owns the boat, could not confirm yesterday who was steering the ship at the time.

The captain of The Caribbean Sea and two other crew members did speak with the National Transportation Safety Board on Saturday. While the NTSB did not give details of the interviews, it did say in the new report that the captain of the doomed duck boat told investigators Friday that he did issue distress calls on a maritime radio channel. The report also said other vessels in the area at the time heard the transmissions.

A veteran maritime lawyer and former Coast Guard officer in Philadelphia, Jeffrey Moller of Blank Rome, said it’s not surprising that the mate, if he was steering the tug, would refuse to talk to the NTSB.

“There is a federal criminal statute referred to as the seaman’s manslaughter statute. And neither the NTSB nor the Coast Guard can grant any impunity to mariners for talking to them,” Moller said. “Mariners also worry about their license.”

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