Tanker Overtaking A Tow Leads To Its Grounding

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On March 31st, 2022, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) published a report regarding a tanker pilot’s decision to overtake a tow in a large bend on the Mississippi River with multiple nearby vessels and during high-water conditions, leading to the tanker’s grounding.

The Incident

The NTSB issued Marine Investigation Report 22/11 detailing its investigation and findings into the March 16, 2021 grounding of the tanker Bow Tribute and subsequent contact with the fender systems protecting two river intakes owned by the city’s sewerage and water board.

The Bow Tribute was transiting downbound in the Lower Mississippi River when the vessel grounded while attempting to overtake a two-barge tow in a river bend. No injuries or pollution were reported, but damages totaled over $1.9 million, including $986,400 in damages to the vessel and $926,100 in damages to the fender systems.

The tanker was being piloted by a New Orleans-Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association (NOBRA) pilot and had a 27-person crew on board at the time of the accident. Ahead of the tanker, also traveling downbound, was the towing vessel American Way pushing two empty barges with a crew of four.

The NTSB investigation revealed the two pilots agreed the tanker would overtake the tow at Nine Mile Point, within the Carrollton Bend. There was also additional traffic in the area of the American Way, including the downbound towboat Capt JW Banta pushing two barges and the upbound bulk carrier Red Cosmos.

While rounding Nine Mile Point ahead of the Bow Tribute, the American Way tow began to slide in the bend and into the path of the overtaking tanker. The American Way’s pilot could not maintain the tow’s position in the center of the river, nor power or steer it out of the slide in sufficient time to allow space for the Bow Tribute, which was traveling at double the speed of the tow. As the distance between the vessels continued narrowing, the pilot steered the tanker clear of the American Way.

Shortly after the grounding, the Bow Tribute struck sequentially two spud barges that were part of a fender system protecting the river intake pipes.

The pilot on the Bow Tribute told investigators that he kept the vessel near the shoreline because he could no longer see the American Way under the tanker’s starboard bow.

The NTSB determined the probable cause was the pilot’s decision to overtake a tow in a large river bend occupied by multiple vessels during high-river conditions with a strong following current. Contributing to the grounding was the ineffective communication between the pilot of the Bow Tribute and the pilot of the towing vessel American Way regarding where the overtaking maneuver would occur.

Clear, effective, and unambiguous radio communications should be used, especially during high traffic and dynamic conditions such as overtaking in a bend,” the report said.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the grounding of the tanker Bow Tribute and its subsequent contact with the river intake fender systems was the pilot’s decision to overtake a tow in a large river bend occupied by multiple vessels during high-river conditions with a strong following current.

Contributing to the grounding was the ineffective communication between the pilot of the Bow Tribute and the pilot of the towing vessel American Way regarding where the overtaking maneuver would occur.

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Source: NTSB

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