NTSB: Tanker was traveling too fast before striking Maryland pier

Federal investigators say a tanker that caused $2 million in damage to a pier in Baltimore Harbor was traveling too fast while attempting a sharp dogleg turn.

The 477-foot Wawasan Ruby was operating under the guidance of a pilot and a master as it prepared for a 70° turn into Curtis Creek at about 1230 on Aug. 25, 2012, according a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident report.

Investigators say the ship was traveling at nearly 10 knots just before making the turn — roughly twice as fast as other ships that recently transited the same route.

“The probable cause of the allision of the tanker Wawasan Ruby with the CSX Bayside Coal Pier was the high rate of speed at which the pilot and master were operating the vessel while attempting a 70° turn into Curtis Creek,” the report said.

Investigators say several factors other than speed might have contributed to the accident. For one, the pilot hadn’t transited the area in nine months, and that most recent trip was on a much smaller vessel.

The Baltimore docking pilot guiding the vessel boarded the ship later than usual due to high vessel traffic in the harbor. The delay deprived the pilot of a chance to experience how the vessel turned before executing the much sharper turn, the report said.

“Had the docking pilot boarded the ship in the usual area, he would have had an opportunity to experience turning the ship to port into the main channel,” the report said. “Instead, his first maneuver with the ship would now be making a sharp port turn into Curtis Creek.”

The Panama-flagged ship was inbound from Port Everglades, Fla., carrying a partial load of ethanol when the accident happened. There were 22 crewmembers, one pilot and a company representative on board.

As the vessel neared Curtis Creek, the pilot ordered the engine to dead slow ahead to prepare for the turn. Moments later, the pilot gave a rudder order of starboard 10°. At that point, the vessel was traveling at 9.6 knots. Less than a minute later, the pilot issued new orders after realizing the vessel’s bow was not turning fast enough, the report said. The pilot ordered a tugboat to aid the turn.

Once it became clear the ship wouldn’t make it, the pilot ordered the tugboat to stand down and issued rudder commands intended to slow the ship and steer it into a gap between two piers.

“At 1244, with the vessel’s speed at 7.8 knots, the pilot ordered the engine full astern and to let go the starboard anchor,” the report said.

The ship’s bulbous bow struck pilings under the CSX pier. Carried by forward momentum, it broke pilings along a roughly 200-foot-long stretch.

Investigators faulted the ship’s crew for failing to sound an alarm as the vessel careened into the pier.

The accident caused more than $2 million damage to the pier, the report said. Wawasan Ruby sustained about $15,000 in damage, mostly to its bow. A pier worker in a crane loader suffered back and shoulder injuries.

Wawasan Ruby, which was built in 2010, is owned by Trio Happiness SA of Panama and operated by Goodwood Ship Management Ltd. of Singapore. A Goodwood representative declined to comment.

The Maryland Board of Pilots did not respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which oversees the pilot board, declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation. The spokeswoman, Summar Goodman, would not say which agency was still investigating.

By Professional Mariner Staff