NTSB: Inadequate risk assessment led to high-water allisions


The 817-foot tanker Nordbay was outbound in the Mississippi River when it struck a barge dock just west of New Orleans while transiting a sharp bend. About an hour later, the ship struck a wooden landing near Algiers Point, La.

The initial incident occurred at 2213 on Feb. 2, 2016, during a period of high, fast water on the Lower Mississippi River. The Cyprus-flagged tanker was in ballast with a relatively shallow draft. None of the 24 crewmembers were injured, but the allisions caused more than $6 million in damage to the ship and infrastructure along the riverbank.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators determined Nordbay’s master and the New Orleans-Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association (NOBRA) pilot aboard the vessel did not “adequately (assess) the risks of handling the ballasted vessel during high river conditions with strong following currents while turning into the wind.”

Poor situational awareness of the ship’s position in the waterway contributed to the allisions, the agency said. The master’s cellphone use after the first accident was considered a contributing factor in the second allision.

NOBRA pilots did not respond to requests for comment on the accident. Neither did Reederei Nord Group, the European shipper that operates Nordbay through a subsidiary.

Nordbay left Valero dock No. 4 in St. Charles, La., at 2030 on Feb. 2 with the NOBRA pilot on board. The river was running fast and high, and two tugboats had held the vessel in position at the oil terminal during offloading. Nordbay’s draft was about 18 feet forward and about 30 feet aft.

The ship reached the Huey P. Long Bridge about 90 minutes later. The span is just upriver from Nine Mile Point near New Orleans. The ship was 600 feet from the right bank as it approached the 135-degree starboard turn, and there were winds from the south between 15 and 25 knots.

After entering the turn, the pilot several times asked for more engine rpm. He later told investigators the ship’s stern was “falling into the bend and the bow was not climbing out.”

The pilot feathered the rudder to try and increase the ship’s rate of turn, but its port side struck a River Transport Services dock and local water and sewer infrastructure. Soon afterward, a crewmember saw ballast water spraying from the ship’s damaged hull.

An aerial photo shows the destroyed River Transport Services barge dock.

Courtesy NTSB

Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Services recommended transiting downriver to the general ship anchorage south of Algiers Point. Two tugboats stood by to assist around the point. However, the pilot opted against using them due to concern about dragging under one or both tugs, the NTSB report said.

Nordbay passed under the Crescent City Connection bridges roughly 600 feet from the right bank while preparing for the starboard turn around Algiers Point. The pilot ordered the engine to full ahead, then called for hard starboard rudder. Again, winds from the south-southeast hit the ship’s starboard quarter at 15 to 25 knots.

At this point, Nordbay’s master was on the phone discussing the initial accident with the ship manager. He ended the call after the pilot requested emergency engine rpm with the ship again headed toward the bank.

“(The master) then asked the pilot what was happening, to which the pilot replied that they were being pushed down into the bend,” the report said.

At 2306, the ship’s port side hit a wooden pier at the Mandeville Street Wharf located at mile marker 94. Again, the pilot brought Nordbay back into the channel, and with help from the two tugboats the ship anchored three miles downriver.

Nordbay sustained damage to its hull and propeller estimated at $400,000. The River Transport Services dock damaged in the first allision required up to $4 million in repairs, while the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans infrastructure sustained $2 million in damage. Damage assessments for the Mandeville Street Wharf were not available.

NTSB investigators homed in on key aspects of the transit. These included the sharp starboard turns preceding each allision, wind hitting the starboard side of the ship, the ship’s relatively shallow draft and the following river current. The pilot and master were aware of these conditions prior to the voyage, investigators said, but they did not discuss how they could impact the ship.

Investigators noted both the pilot and master used cellphones during critical points in the voyage. For instance, the master was unaware of the developing situation before the second impact due to discussions with the home office. The pilot also used a cellphone several times during the voyage, including a brief personal call.

By Professional Mariner Staff