The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its investigative report on the May 26, 2019 incident when the product tanker American Liberty struck multiple moored vessels, barges, and docks while on the Lower Mississippi River. On the date of the incident, the Mississippi River was at major flood stage due to heavy rains.
The NTSB’s report explains:
On the evening of May 16, the American Liberty prepared to get underway after loading a cargo of low sulfur diesel fuel and gasoline. As a US-flagged vessel engaged in domestic trade, the American Liberty employed a US Coast Guard-credentialed mariner with federal pilotage endorsements for the Lower Mississippi River. The Associated Federal Pilots and Docking Masters of Louisiana provide pilotage services from Southwest Pass to Baton Rouge.
The pilot ultimately lost control of the vessel, which struck numerous vessels and wharfs on the river. Significant damage was caused, both to the vessel and the objects that were struck, totaling over $40,000,000:
The American Liberty suffered $1,704,934 in damages to the hull plating down the port side, from cargo tank #2 to the steering gear room; the hull was holed in three places, but the cargo tanks in the double hull were not penetrated. The African Griffon had $5,000 in damages including an inset 15 feet long by 5 feet wide and a fractured frame to the port side of the hull adjacent to cargo hold #1. The Don D suffered $504,519 in damages, which included multiple holes in the hull at the starboard stern and the port bow. The Ever Grace suffered $97,188 in damages, which included two hull punctures and up to 2-foot-deep plate indents over an area 32 feet long and 12 feet wide on the port bow. Initial damage to the ADM Elevator Reserve Terminal was to two mooring platforms and catwalks, 100 feet of the concrete wharf, fenders, and a security camera/tower. Damages were revised to $32,150,000 to demolish and rebuild the facility including the wharf, moorings systems, loading tower and foundation, ship loader, conveyor system, crane tower, and vacuum tower. Eleven ADM hopper barges suffered estimated damages of $221,000. The PSL Upper Globalplex Reserve Wharf suffered $5,881,210 in damages including a destroyed mooring dolphin and catwalk, damaged bridge, pipeline, conduit, wharf structure, and a navigation light. Combined accident damages to the ships, barges, and wharfs were $40,563,851.
The probably cause of the incident, as found by the NTSB was:
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the contact of the tank vessel American Liberty and multiple vessels, barges, and wharfs was poor bridge resource management and miscommunication between the pilot and the master, which led to the bridge team’s delay in carrying out an engine order and caused a delay in the vessel attaining sufficient speed to conduct an undocking maneuver in high river conditions. Contributing to the accident was the decision to release the assisting tugs before the undocking maneuver was completed.
It is important any time simultaneous operations are occurring that the pilot and the bridge team share the same mental model for the maneuvering of the vessel and fully understand the tasks to be performed. Communications must be open, involve discussion of the intended maneuvers, and should continue throughout the evolution in order to present incidents such as this one. Clear orders and commands should be acknowledged and carried out promptly.
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