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Redoutable - La Voulte english summary

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publié le 10 février 2011

On Sunday 18 January 2004 at around 6:30 am, a river convoy comprising a push tug, a barge loaded with benzene and a container barge was involved in an accident on the Rhône River at the railway bridge in Voulte-sur-Rhône (07).

As it passed under the railway bridge, the convoy lost speed and was unable to clear it completely. Having become immobilised, the convoy drifted askew and came into contact with the bank and a pier. The rigging broke and the push tug sank, while the two barges jack-knifed and became wedged against two of the bridge’s piers.
One person was killed in the accident, a crewmember who fell overboard and could not be rescued.
Navigation on the Rhône and railway traffic over the bridge were interrupted for a week, until the barges were removed.

The accident was due to loss of speed and to the fact that the convoy stopped just as it was passing under the bridge at La Voulte. The direct cause of this loss of speed could not be precisely identified. The hypothesis according to which the convoy came into contact with the bottom of the river in a shallow zone is implausible, unless considerable changes occurred to the bed of the Rhône between the time of the accident and the bathymetric survey of March 2004. The theory that the convoy’s trajectory was incorrect when it reached the bridge is also contradicted by the witness statements obtained, but can nevertheless not be ruled out. The possibility of engine failure or obstruction of the rotors by a foreign body could not be verified.

Several factors influenced the seriousness of the accident.
Among these factors, we should mention the double-shell structure of the barge “Annemasse”, which protected the Rhône from the potentially serious consequences of benzene pollution.
Among the negative factors, we can cite :
- the possibility that the victim had put on his life jacket incorrectly, or that he was not wearing one at all ;
- the aggressive shape of the bridge pier casings, which explains why the external shell of the "Annemasse" was torn open ;
- the presence of a pressurised gas conduit on the downstream side of the bridge apron, which may be a risk factor.

Five recommendations were formulated at the end of this survey. These relate to :
- a study into new regulations which, in certain circumstances, would restrict the navigation of convoys loaded with dangerous goods ;
- the incorporation of boat monitoring into the river police’s remit, in order to secure the transportation of dangerous goods ;
- the posting of a reminder of safety procedures and the installation of safety systems on boats ;
- the modification of the railway bridge’s piers ;
- a study into the risks posed to boat traffic by the bridges on the Rhône.