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Tugboat Pilot Who Killed Two in Duck Boat Crash Pleads Guilty to Manslaughter Charges

Published Jul 18, 2011 4:38 PM by The Maritime Executive

Last year, a tugboat pilot, Matthew Devlin, was accused of being at fault for the deaths of two Hungarian tourists aboard a “Ride with the Ducks” tour boat in Philadelphia.

The incident taking place on the Delaware River last summer was caused by Devlin speaking with his wife on the phone in the lower wheelhouse of the tugboat about his son who just underwent eye surgery.  He defied orders from the ship’s captain to pilot from the upper wheelhouse and did not maintain proper lookout or comply with rules of seamanship. 

His neglect of these orders resulted in obstructed vision of the Delaware, and the tug pushing a 250-ft barge through the river and ramming into the sightseeing duck boat.  The collision sent 35 others tumbling into the water on July 7, 2010 in addition to the two Hungarian casualties, Dora Schwendtner,16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20. 

Devlin has agreed to plead guilty to a single charge of misconduct of a ship operator, causing death, according to U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger.

As part of his plea agreement, Devlin is relinquishing his Coast Guard license as a mate, and will likely face 37 to 46 months, under suggested sentencing guidelines.

The tug company and the tour boat company alike are being sued by the families of the victims.

Map of the Delaware River, located near the Northeastern coast of the United States.