TSB: Poor pilot exchange, bank suction may have led to St. Lawrence Seaway grounding

Failure to inform a pilot that the steering stand was offset from the centerline and insufficient channel lighting were among the risk factors when a cargo ship ran aground in Montreal in 2011, Canadian investigators said.

The grounding of the multipurpose cargo vessel BBC Steinhoeft on March 31, 2011, closed the St. Lawrence Seaway for 10 hours. The 453-foot ship was downbound under the control of a pilot when it got wedged sideways in the South Shore Canal, downstream of St. Lambert Lock at 0309.

In a recent investigative report, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) said the crew failed to control the ship after it experienced bank suction. The TSB determined that there were numerous causes and contributing factors to the grounding.

There were two pilots on board. The TSB found that the steering stand of BBC Steinhoeft was offset from the centerline. Specific and detailed information was not provided to Pilot No. 1 to allow the accurate determination of parallax error.

After Pilot No. 1 ordered the helmsman to steer on a visual reference point, the vessel followed a path that brought it closer than desired to the south bank of the channel. As the vessel approached the entrance to the narrower section of the channel, it experienced a bank suction effect that caused a sheer to port.

All attempts to counteract the sheer were ineffective in the short time and limited space available, and the vessel ran aground, blocking the channel.

In its findings as to risk, the TSB determined that the absence of specific information regarding the offset steering stand position and potential parallax error, such as on the pilot card or by physical marking, may contribute to navigational errors, placing the vessel and its crew at risk.
In addition, the lack of Seaway infrastructure lighting may increase the difficulty for navigators in assessing their position relative to the bank, the TSB noted.

BBC Steinhoeft has a forward draft of 13.6 feet and a draft of 21.9 feet aft. When it grounded, the vessel swung around and ended up blocking the entire channel. Seaway traffic was reopened after the ship was refloated by two assisting tugs.

BBC Steinhoeft was built by Jiangzhou Union Shipbuilding in China. It is powered by one MaK six-cylinder 5,400-kW diesel engine, driving a controllable pitch propeller. The ship’s owner is Baumwall GmbH & Co. KG of Germany. It is managed by Reederei Elbe Shipping GmbH & Co. KG, also based in Germany.

The TSB said the voyage data recorder (VDR) on BBC Steinhoeft was found to have ceased functioning the day before the accident. Consequently, no data from the time of the occurrence were available to the investigators when the remote storage module was analyzed at the TSB laboratory.

When VDR data, in particular the bridge audio recordings, are not available to an investigation, the TSB said identification and communication of safety deficiencies to advance transportation safety may be precluded.

The TSB found that onboard documentation did not clearly identify the vessel’s rudder type, nor were the bridge team members aware that the vessel was fitted with an articulated flap rudder.

The TSB noted that a large number of vessels required to carry an automatic identification system (AIS) have a GPS antenna location that is not correctly configured. BBC Steinhoeft’s AIS was broadcasting values indicating a GPS antenna location that was at the bow of the vessel. However, the actual location of the GPS antenna was on top of the navigation bridge.

The TSB has written Marine Safety Advisory Letters to the ship manager, the Laurentian Pilotage Authority and to the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. with recommendations to correct deficiencies in procedures identified during the investigation.

Repeated attempts by Professional Mariner to contact the ship manager, Reederei Elbe Shipping, were unsuccessful.

By Professional Mariner Staff