NTSB: Mate disregarded commands before barge strike, breakaway

Shortly after midnight on Jan. 15, 2016, the tug Lucia and loaded fuel barge Caribbean were attempting a 180-degree turn in the Mississippi River near New Orleans. The crew of the articulated tug-barge quickly sensed a problem: They weren’t turning fast enough.

According to federal investigators, the mate helming an assist tug that was helping turn the ATB around disregarded commands to push full ahead against the barge. Instead, the 4,000-hp William S was only at 40 percent throttle.

Attempts by Lucia’s chief mate to increase the rate of turn weren’t successful, and the ATB ran into barges moored at a Stone Oil facility, puncturing Caribbean’s hull at the bow. The impact also damaged Stone’s dock and caused a half-dozen barges to break away. Nobody was hurt, but roughly 40 gallons of diesel spilled into the river.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators determined the probable cause of the accident was “the decision by the mate on the William S to not fully execute the navigational commands provided to him.”

Bisso Towboat Co. of New Orleans owns the 4-year-old z-drive tug William S. Penn Maritime, a Kirby Corp. subsidiary, owns the 7,010-hp Lucia and the 460-foot tank barge Caribbean, both built in 1995. Bisso declined to comment on the NTSB report, and Kirby did not respond to email messages.

Tony Odak, Stone’s chief operating officer, also declined to discuss the NTSB findings.

“We value our strong and longtime relationship with Kirby and with Bisso,” he said in an email. “We assisted all interested stakeholders and are glad that no one was hurt, and a minimal amount of fuel entered the waterway.”

Lucia and Caribbean were moored at Perry Street Wharf with their bows facing upriver. The ATB intended to move upriver to Celeste Street Wharf across the river, then turn to port and spin 180 degrees to travel downriver. The Buck Kreihs repair facility just past Algiers Point was the ATB’s destination.

The voyage from Perry Street Wharf to Celeste Street Wharf began at about 0001. According to the NTSB report, the pilot aboard Lucia provided navigational direction to Lucia’s chief mate, who gave commands to William S while the master observed. The ATB reached its destination eight minutes later without incident.

With William S positioned perpendicular to the ATB’s centerline, the vessels were ready to execute the 180-degree turn. “At 0011, the chief mate on the Lucia put the rudders to full port and the throttle at half astern, and then ordered the mate on the William S to push full ahead on the Caribbean’s hull,” the NTSB said.

Three minutes later, the mate said the tug was pushing at just 40 percent throttle due to concerns about “riding up on the barge.” Lucia’s crew again looked where the two vessels met and determined 1 to 1.5 feet of the bow fender was against the barge.

Instead of turning around, the ATB was drifting downriver nearly perpendicular to the bank. The pilot aboard Lucia ordered the engines to full astern to prevent further drifting toward the Stone terminal. It wasn’t enough, and the ATB hit tank barge S-35 moored at Stone’s dock No. 6, which damaged the facility and barges S-32 and S-39 as well as another barge used as a floating dock, the report said.

The four barges broke away and ran into two tank barges at Stone dock No. 7, and they too started drifting. A hose broke at dock No. 6, spilling diesel fuel into the river. Five tugboats operating nearby responded to calls for assistance to round up the barges, one of which ran into the Col. Frank X. Armiger passenger ferry moored at the Algiers terminal.

When asked about his decision not to push full ahead as ordered by Lucia’s first mate, the mate aboard William S told investigators the tug’s bow rose up against Caribbean’s hull when he first applied full throttle. “He said that he did not want any steel-to-steel contact between his vessel and the barge, which could cause damage,” according to the NTSB report. “He further stated that he normally took directions and followed orders, except when they put his vessel and crew in danger.”

By Professional Mariner Staff