Just before midnight on March 20, 2016, the outbound bulk carrier Sparna departed the navigation channel on the Columbia River and struck a rocky shallow area. No one was injured and no pollution resulted, but the grounding caused damage and flooding to the vessel’s forward tanks. Damage to the Sparna was estimated at more than $500,000; a nearby dock sustained about $60,000 in damage.
Uninformed Bridge Team
A pilot with the local Columbia River Pilots Association was on board the Sparna for the outbound transit. About 4 hours into the voyage toward sea, the Sparna pilot radioed the pilot on an inbound bulk carrier, the Yasa Gulten, regarding plans for their upcoming star-board-to-starboard meeting in the Wauna Channel section of the Columbia River. Although the pilot explained his plan to the pilot on the Yasa Gulten, he did not explain it to the bridge team on his vessel, nor did they ask him about it. Shortly thereafter, at 2330, the pilot on the Sparna requested an engine rpm reduction from 96 rpm to 80 rpm. Again, he did not inform the Sparna bridge team why he decreased speed. He later told investigators that it was customary to minimize wake in that area because on the Oregon side of the channel was a dock where barges from a nearby paper mill would load wood chips (wake reduction decreased the risk of damage to the barges and facility).
Retracing the incident
The pilot ordered speed changes and rudder commands as Sparna transited past the dock. At one point, as the pilot was issuing rudder orders to the helmsman, the helmsman erroneously applied port rudder instead of starboard. No one on the bridge noticed the helmsman’s error; therefore, the ship continued turning toward the dock (on the ship’s left side). The pilot shouted, “Hard to starboard! Hard to starboard!” and ordered full-ahead speed. The rudder angle began to correct; however, the boatswain who was positioned on the bow as lookout radioed the bridge that the Sparna’s port side was only 1 meter away from one of the barges at the Georgia Pacific dock. The Sparna’s bow started to turn away from the barge, and the pilot ordered midship and hard to port to keep the aft port side of the ship clear of the barge.
Rocks Inside one of the Ballast Tanks
However, at 2337, the VDR recorded a series of bangs and vibration noise, as the ship struck a charted shallow rock just off the wood chip dock. About a minute later, the boatswain radioed the bridge that the ship was “going down forward.” Indeed, as the Sparna met and passed the Yasa Gulten at 2341, the Sparna began to list to port. Subsequent damage assessment revealed breaches several feet in length and height to both a ballast tank and the forepeak tank.
The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the grounding of bulk carrier Sparna was the failure of the pilot and the bridge team to monitor the helmsman’s response to the pilot’s rudder orders.
Monitoring Rudder Order Response
Bridge team members should always monitor the helms-man’s response to a rudder order for correct angle and direction of movement. If an error is detected, or if there is confusion about the order given, a correction or clarification should follow. The presence of a pilot on the bridge does not relieve the other bridge team members of their duty to actively monitor the vessel’s position.
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