Tugboat pilot agrees to plead guilty in duck boat crash

The pilot of a boat involved in last year’s deadly duck boat accident on the Delaware River was charged under maritime law Thursday in the deaths of two tourists.

Federal investigators determined Matthew Devlin was distracted for an extended time before the collision as he used his cellphone and laptop computer to deal with a personal matter.

U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger said Thursday Devlin was distracted while piloting the tugboat pulling the barge that ran over the duck boat full of tourists.

“Those who operate transport vessels on our waterways have a clear duty to ensure that proper sight lines are maintained at all times and to obey all other rules of seamanship so that the risks to others on the water are minimized,” Memeger said.

Memeger said Devlin should have asked for someone to relieve him.

“There were policies and procedures in place within the company that he could have requested relief and someone else would have captained the ship at that point in time while he dealt with his family matter and then hopefully this tragedy would have been averted,” Memeger said.

Memeger said Devlin has agreed to plead guilty to the charge, and to the permanent revocation of his Coast Guard-issued license as a mate.

Two tourists died in the crash. In a written statement, their families said they are “gratified that federal prosecutors have acted to hold one of the responsible parties accountable.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.