TSB: Ship struck St. Lawrence lock wall while master and pilot argued

A disagreement between the master and the pilot on how to reduce speed led to a general cargo ship striking a St. Lawrence Seaway lock, investigators said.
While a dispute brewed over the use of anchors, M/V Claude A. Desgagnes never did slow down before hitting the upper approach wall of the Iroquois Lock on Nov. 6, 2013, according to a report by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB).

The 450-foot ship is owned by Transport Desgagnés Inc. of Quebec City. The 9,627-gt steel-hulled vessel, built in China in 2011, is powered by one medium-speed four-stroke diesel engine (5400 kW at 514 rpm) driving a single controllable-pitch propeller.

At the time of the occurrence, the ship was laden with corn outbound from Hamilton, Ontario, for Londonderry, Northern Ireland. After transiting Lake Ontario under the conduct of a marine pilot, Claude A. Desgagnes arrived at the pilot station in Cape Vincent, N.Y., at 1650, where a relief pilot embarked. The pilot was to navigate the vessel from Cape Vincent to the Iroquois Lock in Ontario, a trip of approximately 6 hours covering 64 nm. 

The vessel proceeded on the St. Lawrence River toward the Iroquois Lock with a bridge team that consisted of the pilot, an officer of the watch (OOW) and a helmsman. There were two vessels downbound ahead of the Claude A. Desgagnes: Algolake and Rt. Hon. Paul J. Martin.

While underway, the pilot ascertained that a minimum speed of 6 knots was required to maintain steerage and keep a safe distance astern of Rt. Hon. Paul. J. Martin

The TSB report noted that as the vessel proceeded downriver, the master and pilot spoke, but they did not develop a shared understanding of the maneuver to be used in the approach to the Iroquois Lock. The TSB report stated that the pilot requested to use the anchor maneuver referred to as dredging, a common practice used at the Iroquois Lock.

While the pilot had explained his plan to dredge the anchor to the OOW earlier in the voyage, the details of the plan were not relayed to the master when he arrived on the bridge. Although the pilot later informed the master of his intention to carry out the maneuver in broad terms, the master did not confirm that he understood or agreed with the maneuver. Neither the master nor the pilot discussed the plan further as the vessel approached the lock entrance. 

“When the master ordered that the vessel’s speed be reduced, the pilot advised against this due to the direction and force of the current at that time. Although the pilot requested the forward anchors be deployed, each time, the master declined,” the report stated.

Serge Le Guellec, president and general manager at Transport Desgagnés, told Professional Mariner that at this point the pilot informed the master that he was transferring the conduct of the vessel back to the master, all the while continuing to give instructions to the helmsman. 

“This created further confusion on the bridge,” Le Guellec wrote in an email. “It is to be noted that the master did not confirm to the pilot taking over navigational control of the vessel.”

When Claude A. Desgagnes reached a critical point close to the lock, the pilot once more requested the use of the anchor to slow down the vessel, but the master did not initiate the pilot’s orders. The anchor was not dredged, nor was any other means of slowing down the vessel employed. The ship continued on its path and struck the upper approach wall. After striking the wall the master and pilot attempted to realign the vessel, but they were unable to regain control due to its momentum, the wind and the current. The ship crossed the channel and ran aground.

The TSB said the bridge team should have agreed to the navigation decisions earlier. 

“If bridge team members do not exchange information in order to achieve a mutual understanding of a vessel’s maneuvers on an ongoing basis, there is a risk that crucial maneuvers to ensure safe navigation will not be completed in a timely manner,” the investigators wrote. “If bridge team members do not have clear orders from one officer who has the conduct of the vessel, there is a risk that they will be confused as to who has the conduct of the vessel, compromising decision-making and the execution of orders.”

Le Guellec said the master’s preferred maneuver was to reduce speed by using the main engine to approach the lock in order to reduce the risk of a dropped anchor penetrating the hull, given prevailing water levels.

“Moreover, given the vessel’s low-speed maneuverability resulting from its bow thrusters and full spade suspended rudder, the master felt that reducing speed was the safest approach,” Le Guellec wrote in a statement. “It is to be noted that the master had never used the anchor at Iroquois Lock.”

Following this casualty, the company revised and updated its Bridge Manual Instructions included in its Quality, Safety, Security and Environmental (QSSE) Management System. This revision includes Bridge Resource Management procedures required while the vessel is under the conduct of a pilot and, in particular, the responsibilities of the master and officer of the watch, supervision of the pilot, taking over navigational control from the pilot, safe conduct of the vessel and access to the vessel’s bridge and equipment.

The St. Lawrence Seaway Pilotage Association did not reply to a request for comment.

By Professional Mariner Staff