Nov 132011

A swathe of new safety recommendation have been issued by the US National Transportation Safety Board in the wake of its report on the Eagle Otome/Dixie Vengeance incident in January 2010. The recommendation cover pilot fatigue, vessel traffic control systems and the suitability of the Sabines-Neches Channel, among others.

On Saturday, January 23, 2010, about 0935 central standard time, the 810-foot-long oil tankship Eagle Otome collided with the 597-foot-long general cargo vessel Gull Arrow at the Port of Port Arthur, Texas. A 297-foot-long barge, the Kirby 30406, which was being pushed by the towboat Dixie Vengeance, subsequently collided with the Eagle Otome. The tankship was inbound in the Sabine-Neches Canal with a load of crude oil en route to an ExxonMobil facility in Beaumont, Texas. Two pilots were on board, as called for by local waterway protocol. When the Eagle Otome approached the Port of Port Arthur, it experienced several unintended heading diversions culminating in the Eagle Otome striking the Gull Arrow, which was berthed at the port unloading cargo.

A short distance upriver from the collision site, the Dixie Vengeance was outbound with two barges. The towboat master saw the Eagle Otome move toward his side of the canal, and he put his engines full astern but could not avoid the subsequent collision. The Kirby 30406, which was the forward barge pushed by the Dixie Vengeance, collided with the Eagle Otome and breached the tankship’s starboard ballast tank and the No. 1 center cargo tank a few feet above the waterline. As a result of the breach, 862,344 gallons of oil were released from the cargo tank, and an estimated 462,000 gallons of that amount spilled into the water. The three vessels remained together in the center of the canal while pollution response procedures were initiated. No crewmember on board any of the three vessels was injured.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determines that the probable cause of the collision of tankship Eagle Otome with cargo vessel Gull Arrow and the subsequent collision with the Dixie Vengeance tow was the failure of the first pilot, who had navigational control of the Eagle Otome, to correct the sheering motions that began as a result of the late initiation of a turn at a mild bend in the waterway. Contributing to the accident was the first pilot’s fatigue, caused by his untreated obstructive sleep apnea and his work schedule, which did not permit adequate sleep; his distraction from conducting a radio call, which the second pilot should have conducted in accordance with guidelines; and the lack of effective bridge resource management by both pilots. Also contributing was the lack of oversight by the Jefferson and Orange County Board of Pilot Commissioners.

Safety issues identified in this accident include pilot oversight, mariner fatigue, waterway safety, and bridge control ergonomics. As a result of this accident investigation, the NTSB makes new recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard, the Jefferson and Orange County Board of Pilot Commissioners, the Sabine Pilots Association, the American Pilots’ Association, and governors of states and territories in which state and local pilots operate. The NTSB also reiterates a recommendation and reclassifies a recommendation to the U.S. Coast Guard.

New NTSB Recommendations

US Coast Guard

  • Conduct a ports and waterways safety assessment for the Sabine-Neches Waterway, determine from that whether the risk is unacceptable, and if so, develop risk mitigation strategies. (M-11-13)
  • Work through the International Maritime Organization to encourage the application of human factors design principles to the design and manufacture of critical vessel controls. (M-11-14)
  • Facilitate and promote regular meetings for representatives of pilot oversight organizations to communicate information regarding pilot oversight and piloting best practices. (M-11-15)
  • Establish a database of publicly available pilot incidents and accidents and make the database easy to use and readily available to all pilot oversight organizations. (M-11-16)

Orange County Board of Commissioners

  • Develop and implement (1) a system to monitor your state-licensed pilots so that your commission can verify the execution of policies, procedures, and/or guidelines necessary for safe navigation, and (2) a fatigue mitigation and prevention program among the Sabine pilots. (M-11-17)

Sabine Pilots Association

  • Take action to ensure that your member pilots follow your guidelines with respect to division of duties and responsibilities of pilots. (M-11-18)

Governors of states and territories in which state and local pilots operate:

  • Ensure that local pilot oversight organizations effectively monitor and, through their rules and regulations, oversee the practices of their pilots to promote and ensure the highest level of safety. (M-11-19)
  • Require local pilot oversight organizations that have not already done so to implement fatigue mitigation and prevention programs that (1) regularly inform mariners of the hazards of fatigue and effective strategies to prevent it and (2) promulgate hours of service rules that prevent fatigue resulting from extended hours of service, insufficient rest within a 24-hour period, and disruption of circadian rhythms. (M-11-20)
  • Require local pilot oversight organizations that have not already done so to implement initial and recurring bridge resource management training requirements. (M-11-21)American Pilots’ Association:
  • Advise your members to consistently identify vessels by name in bridge-to-bridge radio communication, as required by the Federal Communications Commission. (M-11-22)

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