Operator cites ‘excessive’ touch-screen sensitivity in tanker grounding


The loaded tanker Damia Desgagnes ran aground in the St. Lawrence River near Iroquois, Ontario, after the main engine was inadvertently shut off from the bridge.

Wendy Jolliffe, a senior marine investigator with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB), said the 443-foot ship lost propulsion and grounded just before 2300 on June 15. There were 20 people on board and no injuries or pollution were reported. The ship was not damaged.

Authorities determined that someone, or something, triggered an engine shutoff on the bridge’s touch-screen integrated control system.

“It may not have been a crewmember. We may never know the cause of it,” Jolliffe said in a recent interview. “We just know the system ordered an engine shutdown.”

An object might have rolled over a touch screen to cause the shutdown, she added.

Groupe Desgagnes subsidiary Transport Desgagnes blamed the incident on “excessive sensitivity” of the touch screens. The company said the unnamed touch-screen maker was working on a permanent fix.

“In the meantime … the screens targeted by this incident have been covered with a glass shield preventing any accidental access to the touch-screen commands,” said Serge Le Guellec, president and general manager of Transport Desgagnes, based in Quebec City, Quebec.

Damia Desgagnes, a new ship that entered service in April, carried 85,000 barrels of heavy refined oil products. The vessel was headed to Nanticoke, Ontario, from Sorel-Tracy, Quebec. The Canadian-flagged ship can operate on marine diesel or liquefied natural gas.

The vessel grounded bow-first in the soft mud. Crew transferred ballast from the bow to the stern in preparation for the refloating. The Ocean Group tugboats Ocean Georgie Bain and Ocean Serge Genois pulled the tanker back into the navigation channel on June 16.

The tugs escorted the ship through the Iroquois Locks to Johnstown, Ontario, for an investigation of the incident. During discussions on board with crew, authorities determined the touch-screen issue caused the shutdown.

Damia Desgagnes was designed to have an unmanned engine room. This configuration lets wheelhouse personnel monitor all mechanical functions from the bridge. Crew underwent training on the high-tech system at the Turkish yard that built the ship.

In this case, an engineer was on watch in the engine room when the shutdown occurred. “The engines were on bridge control, and the way the vessel was designed as an unattended machine space, it is a function we are likely going to see on more on more and more vessels,” Jolliffe said.

Investigators determined the touch-screen shutdown command did not require a secondary confirmation before stopping the engine. The TSB did not disclose the manufacturer of the system.

The agency is not investigating the incident further, although it likely will address related technology issues in an upcoming communication.

By Professional Mariner Staff