A bulk carrier traveling down the Mississippi River lost steering control and struck an anchored ship because of an electronics problem that caused its engine to slow, Coast Guard investigators have concluded.
On Oct. 16, Zagora, a 712-foot Greek-flagged bulk carrier, veered out of the main channel near Kenner, La., and struck the empty bulk carrier Torm Anholt — scraping, denting and piercing the ship’s hull. The accident happened at about 1500 along an anchorage at Lower Kenner Bend, just a few miles upriver from New Orleans.
Torm Anholt, a 737-foot Panamanian-flagged ship, received damage to a 12-by-6-foot area on its starboard side above the waterline near deck level.
Lt. Cmdr. Cherí Ben-Iesau, Coast Guard chief investigator at New Orleans, said the incident likely will be attributed to mechanical failure.
Investigators believe that a loose electrical connection caused an electronic sensing device to fail. The device, the scavenge air sensor, measures air temperatures in the engine. When the air gets too hot, the sensor automatically slows the engine. In this case, a loose electrical connection affected the power to the scavenge air sensor, which then failed, triggering a reduction in the engine’s RPMs.
As the vessel slowed in the water, its rudder became ineffective. Without the ability to steer, Zagora drifted to starboard. Its bow pierced Torm Anholt, at anchor along the Mississippi’s right descending bank.
“A vessel traveling through the water has to maintain its speed or it affects its ability to steer,” Ben-Iesau said. Zagora, she continued, “went off course. It hit the anchored vessel and put a big gash in its side.”
The Coast Guard initially dispatched two helicopters and a 41-foot rescue boat to the site. No one was injured, and no pollution spilled into the river.
The Coast Guard established a one-way traffic zone in the area for about 12 hours after the accident. Ben-Iesau said no other vessels were delayed.
Torm Anholt listed after the incident, possibly due to a loss of ballast. Dia Marine Corp. of Tokyo operated the 2-year-old ship, owned by ND Shipping of Panama, the Coast Guard said.
Zagora, which was carrying a load of soybeans, sustained very little damage — just a bent transfer beam on its bulbous bow. Built in 2001, the ship is registered to Sea Powerful SA of Panama and was being operated by Goulandris Brothers Ltd. of Greece. Zagora‘s power problem was repaired on the river.
“They ended up getting an electrical contractor out on the Zagora,” Ben-Iesau said. The electrician determined that the problem was triggered by a loose electrical connection that led to the failure of the scavenge air sensor. Ben-Iesau said she doesn’t suspect any human error or negligence played a role in the accident.
Both ships underwent structural repairs at New Orleans wharves and were underway again by November.