NTSB Issues Report on Vessel Incident in Port of Corpus Christi

by | Mar 19, 2022 | Maritime Law

The National Transportation Safety Board has released its report on the March 15, 2021 incident at the Port of Corpus Christi involving the tanker Riverside.  During the incident, the tanker lost propulsion and struck a dock at Moda Ingleside Energy Center.  Luckily no one was injured, but the damage to the vessel was $550,000 and the facility was damage was estimated at $7,000,000.

The NTSB’s report documents the attempts to avoid a collision with Moda Ingleside made by the vessel after its engines failed to start:

Pilot 2 noticed that the captain was focused on adjusting the engine controls and inquired if there was a problem. The captain informed him that they had “lost the engine.” In response to that notification and realizing that the Riverside was heading toward the no. 4 Moda dock, pilot 2 contacted a nearby tug, Honor, which was standing by on the west side of the no. 4 Moda dock, and requested that the tug push on the Riverside’s port bow in an effort to clear the pier. The tug pushed against the Riverside’s port bow and was able to affect the vessel’s direction back toward the channel, but the tug had to move out of the way to avoid becoming trapped between the pier and the vessel. Pilot 2 ordered dead slow astern, and the chief engineer tried to start the engine astern locally, but it failed to start. Pilot 2 and the captain considered dropping the starboard anchor, but they decided against that action out of concern the anchor might puncture the vessel’s hull due to the vessel’s speed (about 5 knots) and shallow water near the no. 4 Moda dock. At 1302, the Riverside’s port bow struck the mooring dolphin and catwalk at the end of the no. 4 Moda dock at 5 knots. The Riverside continued past the pier, and the tug Honor maneuvered to the vessel’s stern, attached a line on the stern, and, with the assistance of the tugs Strength, America, and Courageous, stopped the vessel about 1,600 feet past the no. 4 Moda dock. After the vessel stopped, the tugs assisted in docking the Riverside at the Flint Hills dock no. 4, a facility next to the Moda Ingleside Energy Center.

The NTSB’s investigation determined that the vessel had previously experienced engine troubles.  The engine experienced issues before the Riverside entered the port of Corpus Christi.  The vessel’s crew failed to determine the cause of the engine start failure while outside the port of Corpus Christi.  Despite eventually starting, the engines lacked the reliability needed for use while transiting the port.

The NTSB noted the probable cause:

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the contact of the tanker Riverside with the Moda Ingleside Energy Center no. 4 loading dock was the ineffective evaluation and incorrect solution for a main engine start issue by the company and shipboard engineers, overlooking the fouling of the main engine’s no. 6 air start actuator valve within the starting air distributor. Contributing to the casualty was the presence of moisture in and lack of routine drainage of the air start system, which allowed the buildup of hardened grease within the air start actuator valve.

The NTSB also provided a Lessons Learned regarding the incident:

3.2 Lesson Learned: Evaluation of Engine Start Issues

On vessels with slow-speed diesel propulsion engines, starting and stopping main engines is a critical function for effective maneuverability. The NTSB has investigated multiple casualties involving slow-speed engine pneumatic starting and control systems and, in particular, air actuating valves within the systems. Vessel operators should ensure their crews are equipped with the resources and training to execute timely and thorough maintenance and repair on engines. If the root cause of an engine operating issue cannot be determined, it is critical for a chief engineer and vessel owner/operator to have a diesel technician further evaluate and determine the cause of the malfunction. Vessel reliability is dependent on the complete resolution of equipment malfunctions and abnormalities when they occur.

The incident shows the importance of proper maintenance and repair of equipment on a boat.  Regulations require vessels to have certain equipment and be configured in a specific manner in order to prevent incidents like this from ever occurring.   It can be dangerous to work in any industry when safety considerations are not taken seriously.  This is especially so when working on a large ship. Safe maritime companies must ensure that their ships do not put the lives of their crew members at risk.  Safe maritime companies must be proactive and take preventative measures, including regular maintenance and repairs, as well as ensuring its crew members are adequately trained.

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