Inadequate Assessment Causes Allision With Pier

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The Incident

On August 1, 2015, at 2147 local time, the tank barge Double Skin 501, being pushed by the uninspected towing vessel Peter F Gellatly, allided with Pier A at IMTT in Bayonne, New Jersey, as the captain attempted to dock the tow at a nearby pier. Damage to the barge, pier, and an adjacent ship, the Isola Bianca, totaled an estimated $2.7 million. The allision also damaged pipelines on the pier, resulting in the discharge of 630 gallons of fuel oil into the waterway. No one was injured. 

Lack of caution and Ignorance 

About 2121, the tow got under way from International Matex Tank Terminals (IMTT) Constable Hook (New Jersey) bound for IMTT Bayonne. The distance between the terminals was less than a mile and a half. As the tow approached the Bayonne facility, it failed to slow down. The captain had placed both engines in astern propulsion and did not realize that the starboard engine was still engaged in the forward position.

Although the engine’s control unit had shown a problem earlier that evening (the indicator light oscillated between forward and astern propulsion), the captain and the engineer thought that the issue had since resolved itself.

Damages Incurred

Despite evasive measures, including having the accompanying assist tugboat Houma push on Double Skin 501’s port bow to slow the forward motion, at 2147 the tow allided with a mooring catwalk and Pier A at the IMTT facility.

The force of the allision caused pipelines on the pier to rupture, and one pipeline discharged 630 gallons of fuel oil into the water. At 2150, the Peter F Gellatly captain shut down the vessel’s engines, stopping the movement of the tow.

Mechanical Failure of Solenoid Ignored

After the accident, technicians examined the Peter F Gellatly’s control systems and found loose wires on the electronic selector valve solenoid on the starboard marine gear unit. The company concluded that the loose wires caused a mechanical failure of the shift solenoid.

The captain and the engineer had indications that the starboard engine was not operating as designed; however, both crew members assumed that the problem was resolved, and they took no further action to verify the operability of the system.

Lack of Communication

The engineer did not communicate his findings once he stopped troubleshooting, and the captain did not follow up with him. The Peter F Gellatly’s SMS stated, “Towing Vessel Masters have the authority to stop any work that they reasonably believe may cause a serious accident.”

In accordance with this procedure, the captain had the authority to stop operating the vessel when the starboard engine did not respond properly earlier, but he was not familiar with the SMS. He told investigators that he did not always notify the dispatcher of mechanical issues and was unaware of a policy or procedure describing when he should. 

Probable Cause

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the allision of the Peter F Gellatly tow with IMTT Bayonne Pier A was the captain and the engineer’s poor communication, their inadequate assessment of the hazardous condition posed by the starboard engine control malfunction, and the captain’s decision to continue operations without ensuring that the malfunction had been adequately corrected.

Contributing to the accident was the crew’s unfamiliarity with the provisions of the company’s SMS that addressed actions in response to hazardous conditions.

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Source: NTSB

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