A decision to overtake a tow in a large river bend occupied by multiple vessels during high-river conditions led to the grounding of a tanker and contact with river intake fender systems in New Orleans, Louisiana, a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report has found.
Marine Investigation Report 22/11 investigated the grounding of the tanker Bow Tribute on March 16th 2021 and its subsequent contact with the fender systems protecting two river intakes owned by the city’s sewerage and water board.
The Bow Tribute was travelling south in the Lower Mississippi River when the vessel grounded while attempting to overtake a two-barge tow in a river bend. No injuries or pollution were reported. Damages came to more than $1.9m, comprising $986,400 in damages to the vessel and $926,100 in damages to the fender systems.
The Bow Tribute was being piloted by a New Orleans-Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association (NOBRA) pilot, with a 27-person crew. Ahead of the tanker, travelling in the same direction was towing vessel American Way, which was pushing two empty barges with a crew of four.
The two pilots agreed that the tanker should overtake the tow at Nine Mile Point, within the Carrollton Bend. There was additional traffic in the area of the American Way, including the towboat Capt JW Banta (also travelling south) pushing two barges, and bulk carrier Red Cosmos, which was travelling in the opposite direction.
While rounding Nine Mile Point ahead of the Bow Tribute, the American Way tow began to slide in the bend and into the path of the overtaking Bow Tribute. The American Way’s pilot could not maintain the tow’s position in the centre of the river; neither could the pilot power or steer it out of the slide in sufficient time to allow space for the Bow Tribute, which was traveling at double the speed of the American Way.
As the distance between the vessels continued to narrow, the NOBRA pilot steered the tanker clear of the American Way. The NOBRA pilot on the Bow Tribute told investigators that he kept the vessel near the shoreline because he could no longer see the American Way under the Bow Tribute’s starboard bow. Shortly after, the Bow Tribute struck sequentially two spud barges that were part of a fender system protecting the river intake pipes.
The NTSB determined that the probable cause was the pilot’s decision to overtake a tow in a large river bend occupied by multiple vessels, during high-river conditions and when there was a strong following current.
Contributing to the grounding was insufficiently precise and articulate communication between the pilot of the Bow Tribute and the pilot of the towing vessel American Way regarding where the overtaking manoeuvre would occur. The report noted that “clear, effective, and unambiguous radio communications should be used, especially during high traffic and dynamic conditions such as overtaking in a bend”.