Mate misjudged speed of tow before hitting swing bridge, NTSB says

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(WASHINGTON) — The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued Marine Accident Brief 21/23 for its investigation of the Nov. 14, 2020, accident involving the towing vessel Island Lookout and the Centerville Turnpike Bridge near Chesapeake, Va.

Island Lookout was transiting eastbound with a crew of four on the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal, pushing the 295-foot-long barge BH 2903, which was loaded with scrap steel. As the tow was attempting to pass through the Centerville Turnpike Bridge, the barge struck the swing span of the bridge while it was opening. No pollution or injuries were reported. Estimated damages amounted to $34,000 for the barge and $2.86 million for the bridge. The bridge was closed to vehicle traffic for over six months after the accident for repairs.

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Illustration of the Centerville Turnpike Bridge at the time of the accident. NTSB graphic

The Island Lookout mate was at the helm at the time of the accident. The mate told investigators that he called the bridge operator four times before he received a response. According to the mate, he slowed the towing vessel’s engines after each unanswered radio call.

The bridge operator stated that after receiving the call from Island Lookout, he began the procedure for the bridge opening. The total time required to open the bridge from the first operator action to fully opened span was between 3 minutes 30 seconds and 4 minutes 30 seconds. By the time the bow of the barge was about 175 feet from the bridge, the tow’s speed had reduced to 2.8 knots. While it continued to slow, its momentum carried it into the bridge, eventually hitting the bridge before it could fully open.

The NTSB determined the probable cause of the contact of the Island Lookout tow with the Centerville Turnpike Bridge was the mate’s misjudgment of the tow’s speed of approach relative to the status of the swing bridge opening, which resulted in insufficient time to slow the tow and avoid striking the bridge before it was fully open and safe to navigate.

– National Transportation Safety Board

By Professional Mariner Staff