Faulty Risk Handling of Ballasted Vessel in High-River Results in Allision

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What happened?

At 2213 on February 2, 2016, the tanker Nordbay allided with a dock and water intakes on the Lower Mississippi River in New Orleans, Louisiana. Less than an hour later, as the ship was headed toward an anchorage, it allided with a wharf. No one was injured and no pollution was reported; however, the Nordbay and the impacted shoreside structures sustained an estimated $6.4 million in total damage.

The First Collision

At the time of the accident, the Nordbay was outbound for sea after discharging its cargo of crude oil. The following river current was strong and the winds 15 to 25 knots. At 2205, as the pilot ordered increasing star-board rudder and ship began rounding a large turn in the river at the Nine-Mile Point, the onboard pilot asked for more engine rpm to prevent the ship from setting into the bend. The propulsion slow-speed diesel engine’s rpm increased, yet the rate of turn and forward speed decreased, and, at 2213, the Nordbay struck a shoreside dock and water intakes.

Pilot Initiates Turn; Master On Call

As a result of the allision, the pilot and VTS determined that the ship would proceed to an anchorage downriver. On the way there, the ship had to transit through another

large turn, this time at Algiers Point. The pilot notified the pilot association’s office via cell phone of the accident and arranged for another pilot to board the vessel near the anchorage. The master also used the ship’s cell phone to inform the shipping company of the accident.

The pilot ordered full-ahead speed on the engine to prepare for the turn at Algiers Point; the master was still on the phone with the shipping company when the pilot initiated the turn.

The Second Collision

Once again, the rate of turn was insufficient and the ship was setting into the bend. At 2304, the pilot asked the master, “Can we get more rpm?” The master ended the phone call with the shipping company and asked the pilot how many rpm he wanted, to which the pilot replied, “Emergency . . . As much as you can give me!”

The master called the engine control room stating he needed emergency rpm; he also moved the propulsion levers to full-ahead sea speed. He then asked the pilot what was happening, to which the pilot replied that they were being pushed down into the bend. About 2306, the Nordbay allided with a shoreside wooden pier.

What may have caused the accident?

In addition to the high-river conditions and strong following current, the wind also had an effect on the Nordbay. The ship was in ballast with a freeboard greater than the draft and a 12-foot trim by the stern, and thus the hull had less “grip” on the water. While in the two large bends, the Nordbay was turning into the wind with a heading and direction that put the wind on the starboard side of the ship, thus setting the vessel deeper into the left descending bank and reducing the rate of turn. By the pilot’s account, the stern was “falling into the bend and the bow was not climbing out.” Both the master and the pilot stated that they were aware of the wind and river conditions for the downbound transit but they did not discuss the effect of these conditions on the ship. By the account of the master and the pilot, both considered the risk of getting under way in those conditions acceptable and determined that no additional measures were needed to mitigate the risk.

NTSB’s Conclusion

  1. The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the Nordbay’s allisions with water intakes and docks was the pilot and the master not adequately assessing the risks of handling the ballasted vessel during high-river conditions with strong following currents while turning into the wind.
  2. Contributing was the bridge team’s poor situational awareness of the vessel’s position in the waterway.
  3. Contributing to the second allision was the master’s distraction from his duties while making a phone call.

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Source: NTSB

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