Tanker damages Mississippi ferry landing after losing steerage near New Orleans

The 813-foot Greek-flagged tanker Astro Altair lost steering and struck the state-owned Algiers ferry landing near New Orleans on Aug. 30, 2004. The ship damaged the ferry landing ramp and pontoons, rendering the ramp and the landing unusable.

Astro Altair sustained damage to its bow when it hit a ferry landing and pontoons. The ship was trying to round Algiers Point when it lost control of its rudder.
   Image Credit: Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

The double-hulled tanker laden with crude oil was northbound in the Mississippi River when the accident occurred at about 1430. According to Lt. Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesau of U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Office New Orleans, the tanker was one mile below Algiers Point (Mile 95) and preparing to round at half speed. As Astro Altair approached the point, the pilot ordered the rudder to port, but the steering did not respond. The captain sounded the alarm. The pilot then ordered full speed and the rudder to starboard to avoid hitting the Algiers Point ferry ramp and its pontoon landing, which extend out into the river. This bend in the river approaches 90° and is one of the sharpest in the river, Ben-Iesau said.

The tanker also released eight to nine lengths of anchor chain in an effort to stop or slow the vessel. Tugs were immediately on scene to assist the tanker. The landing is used by ferries that operate between New Orleans and Algiers Point. At the time of the accident the ferry was on the New Orleans side of the river.

Damage to the tanker was limited to a gash in its port bow about 30 feet above the waterline. The Coast Guard and maritime surveyors inspected the ship on site to be sure there was no risk of pollution before the tanker was towed to the Ama Anchorage at mile 115–117.

Astro Altair was then towed to the Grandview Anchorage above the Gramercy Bridge, where it underwent further inspection before being moved to the St. James Sugar Dock, a petroleum unloading facility at mile 157.7.

Ben-Iesau said that at the time of the collision, the tanker had aboard a pilot belonging to the New Orleans–Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association. She said the cause of the steering loss and subsequent collision were still under investigation and that no pollution or injuries were associated with the incident.

By Professional Mariner Staff