Communication, steering errors cited in ship-dredge collision

The dredge New York is partially submerged at its bow after the juice tanker Orange Sun struck the stationary vessel in Newark Bay. (Courtesy Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co.)

Errors by the master and helmsman on the world’s largest juice carrier caused the ship to ram a stationary dredge in Newark Bay in 2008, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators said.

The outbound 672-foot Orange Sun struck the spudded-down dredge New York Jan. 24 in clear weather at 1352 just outside the main shipping channel. New York, the world’s largest backhoe dredge, had $6 million in damage, including salvage costs.

In a December 2009 report, the NTSB said the docking pilot aboard Orange Sun ordered a course change to follow the channel. Simultaneously, he ordered a speed reduction to “dead slow ahead” to avoid creating too much of a wake for the nearby 200-foot bucket dredge. The helmsman had difficulty keeping the ship steady on the altered course. In an attempt to correct the heading, he and the master initiated wheel inputs that the pilot had not ordered. Those actions caused the ship to sheer and barrel into the dredge.

Orange Sun had exhibited similar maneuverability problems before, but the captain didn’t mention them to the pilot, the NTSB report said. The Liberian-flagged vessel is equipped with a flap-type Becker rudder system and controllable-pitch propellers.

The probable cause of the casualty was “the master’s failure to appropriately use bridge resource management and to communicate — specifically, to familiarize his bridge crew with and inform the pilot of the vessel’s occasional tendency to sheer, a characteristic that he had personally experienced,” the investigators said.

“Contributing to the accident were the inappropriate starboard rudder movements made by both the helmsman and the master, which interfered with the pilot’s ability to take appropriate action to prevent the accident,” the report said.

Orange Sun was operated by Atlanship S.A. of La Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland. The owner was Arctic Reefer Corp. of Monrovia, Liberia.

Slow-motion Coast Guard video of the incident on YouTube had 65,000 views by the end of 2009.

The accident seriously damaged New York’s port-side hull and framing and bent two spuds, which needed to be cut off. Flooding occurred in the winch room, transformer room, tool room and storeroom. Salt water damaged much of its equipment. The dredge submerged at its bow but didn’t sink. No one was injured.

After Orange Sun departed Port Newark, it followed a course of 200°, slow ahead, before coming to a slight right-hand bend in the channel, the NTSB said. The Metro Pilots Association docking pilot ordered a course of 205°. The helmsman soon encountered a swing to starboard that put it on a course of more than 208°, widening at a rate of 9° per minute. To counteract it, he made a 20° turn to port. Although he had not detected the desired correction, he brought the wheel to midship after only four seconds.

The pilot eventually noticed that the ship, which was sailing at 10 knots, was moving too far to starboard. He ordered “midship now, port 20,” but the helmsman instead steered starboard 20 and then starboard 35. The pilot said, “Port 20 stupid.” The master relayed in Croatian, “To the left, move to the left.” The pilot urged, “Come on, get it over there. Midship. Midship.” The master then took over the steering from the helmsman.

After failed attempts to turn hard to port and sail Orange Sun astern, the trailing tugboat was called but could not reach the port quarter in time. The pilot radioed warnings to the dredge, and the juice carrier dropped anchor. It was all too late. The ship’s starboard side smashed into the port side of the dredge.

The NTSB said the helmsman should not have stopped his port-20 turn after only four seconds and that the second officer didn’t monitor the helmsman properly.

“To bring the wheel to midship without saying a word to anyone was a critical error,” the NTSB wrote. “The helmsman’s error and his failure to communicate about what was happening triggered a series of erratic wheel inputs by both him and the master, including at least three erroneously to starboard, which the pilot had not ordered and which were … unknown to him.”

The report recommended that Atlanship train its officers in “the principles of bridge resource management that encourage and emphasize correct and unambiguous communication, information management, role responsibility and contingency planning.”

A phone number listed for Atlanship in Switzerland was no longer in service, and the company could not be reached for comment. The report said the company revised the vessel’s pilot card to provide more details about the Becker-rudder and maneuvering characteristics.

The New Jersey Maritime Pilot & Docking Commission issued a separate report on the casualty. New training is planned, emphasizing the handling characteristics of vessels with controllable-pitch propellers.

“The pilot should have taken into account that steering problems may occur if a ship equipped with a controllable-pitch propeller is turned and slowed at or about the same time,” the state report said.

Orange Sun had dents in its bulbous bow and starboard bow bulwark and some hull scrapes, the NTSB said. The damage estimate was $330,000.

Dom Yanchunas

By Professional Mariner Staff