As lawyers fiddle in their briefs in preparation for the trial of San Francisco pilot John Cota, another bridge contact incident has come under the spotlight with the release of the US National Transportation Safety Board’s report on the Panama-registered 243 metre tanker Kition – Interstate Highway 10 bridge pier incident on 10 February 2008. Loss of situational awareness, poor judgment and a hazardous manoeuvre by the pilot, Captain J. Strahan jr., led to the accident, concludes the report.
It was the pilot’s first time to take a ship from the Apex Oil terminal on the west bank of the Mississippi River at Port Allen, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He had never been involved in an incident involving pilot error since becoming a pilot in 2002.
The vessel was moored port side to with the bow facing upriver. On departure she would have to be turned to face down river. Due to the hazards represented by the bridge pier, warnings are given in the Coast Pilot, normal pracrice is to either drop down through the bridge and turn the ship or go about a mil upriver to a former ferry landing to turn. Instead, the pilot turned the vessel off the dock. As he did so the ship swung to starboard and hit the I-10 bridge pier.
Damage to the bridge is estimated at $8m and to Kition, $726,500. Incidents involving ships under pilotage average $850,000 in insurance settlements.
Several lesson arise from the incident: Captain Strahan did not usually volunteer his manouevering intentions to ship’s masters unless they asked, a poor practice. Inadequate master-pilot exchanges are a signature of poor bridge resource management in incidents nvolving vessels under pilotage. While the lack of an adequate exchange may not lead directly to an incident they do indicate underlying systemic problems which increase the chances of an accident.
So, always ask a pilot what his intentions are and go over his passage plan. The master-pilot exchange establishes the bridge team relationship necessary for safe navigation.
An earlier report by the New Orleans Baton Rouge Steamship Pilot’s Association, which has oversight of pilots, also identified ineffective communications between the pilot and the attending tugs and failure to readjust his decisions s cirsumstances changed.
An important of situational awareness is evaluating how changing circumstances affect decisions already made and adjusting to those changing conditions. It is a dynamic process. What often happens is that, having made a decision one stays with it and over-looks or rationalises conditions that conflict with that decision.
It is important to continuously compare what is happenoing in a changing situation to the decisions made.