Pilot error, hydraulic effect cited in collision near Tampa Bay bridge

Pilot error and hydraulic effect led two bulk carriers to collide near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Florida on Oct. 24, 2002.

Bernardo Quintana‘s port lifeboat shows the effects of the impact.
   Image Credit: US Coast Guard

Antilles III, a 378-foot ship, was attempting to pass the 753-foot Bernardo Quintana as the two vessels were navigating an 18° bend in the channel. Both were eastbound toward the Port of Tampa when the collision occurred at about 1334.

Two Tampa Bay Harbor pilots were guiding the ships through the 50-foot-deep, 500-foot-wide shipping channel just west of the bridge. The vessels were about six-tenths of a mile from the bridge when Antilles III, a Bahamian-flagged freighter carrying potassium nitrate, attempted to overtake Quintana, a Panamanian-flagged vessel carrying limestone, according to Michael Shea, an investigator at the U.S Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in Tampa.

Image Credit: US Coast Guard

Antilles III sustained hull damage near the stern. A bridgewing stanchion on Antilles III was severed. Damage to the two vessels was estimated at $500,000 each.

“The pilots discussed passing prior to the collision, but it was supposed to take place earlier in the channel. They were supposed to overtake after the turn. Instead, they attempted to pass during the turn, and the smaller ship (Antilles III) was caught in the larger ship’s hydraulic effect,” Shea said. “It was poor judgment to agree to a passing during a turn on approaching the Skyway Bridge. It was human error.”

Antilles III’s stern struck Quintana’s stern. Each ship sustained an estimated $500,000 in hull damage, according to Shea.

After the collision, the pilot aboard Quintana put the vessel full astern. The bow went right, the stern to the left, and the vessel went aground on a 26-foot shoaled area about 1,500 feet west of the Skyway Bridge. Quintana blocked the shipping channel at the mouth of Tampa Bay for 12 hours until four tugs, with the help of high tide, set the vessel free.

Antilles III continued on to the Port of Tampa after the collision.

The collision caused no injuries or pollution, but it aroused concern because of its proximity to the Skyway Bridge, the scene of three of the worst maritime disasters in Tampa Bay history:

Image Credit: US Coast Guard

On Jan. 28, 1980, the Coast Guard buoy tender Blackthorn collided with the oil tanker Capricorn. Blackthorn sank, killing 23 crewmembers in the worst peacetime disaster in the history of the Coast Guard.

On May 9, 1980, the 600-foot freighter Summit Venture veered out of the channel during a storm and knocked down a section of the old Skyway’s southbound span, sending 35 people to their deaths.

On Aug. 10, 1993, a freighter hit a barge carrying jet fuel and another one carrying oil. More than 300,000 gallons of oil spilled into the bay, soiling beaches and killing wildlife.

By Professional Mariner Staff