As the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board launch their investigation into Monday’s tanker allision with the San Francisco Bay Bridge, information available to the public has hinted that excessive speed coupled with poor visibility may have played a role.
But was speed really a factor in this case?
As we reported yesterday, the 752-foot Marshall Island’s-registered tanker Overseas Reymar allided with tower six of the Bay Bridge at approximately 11:20 a.m while under the command of a San Francisco Bar Pilot as it was exiting the Bay. Luckily, no reports of injuries or pollution resulted, but the incident has brought back memories of the M/V Cosco Busan which in 2007 struck the Bay Bridge and spilled thousands of gallons of fuel into San Francisco Bay.
In the Cosco Busan accident, the NTSB ultimately determined that a medically unfit pilot (John Cota failed to disclose a plethora of prescription drugs he was taking), an ineffective master, and poor communications between the two were primary causes of the accident. In all likelihood, the investigation into yesterday’s allision will have very different outcomes, but a number questions still arise.
According to AIS data from the time of yesterday’s incident, the Overseas Reymar was travelling at approximately 11.8 knots when it struck the bridge. Additional reports indicate that San Francisco Bay was under a thick blanket of its famous pea soup fog, with visibility down to about a quarter mile.
AIS data of a ship which just passed under the Bay Bridge tonight indicated it was traveling at 10.8 knots.
One might instantly jump to the conclusion that since the Overseas Reymar was traveling a knot faster under less visibility, that she was probably going too fast, however the armchair sailor making that conclusion is doing so without understanding that “safe speed” has many factors that have yet to be analyzed in this case.
The maneuvering characteristics of ships can, and do vary greatly depending on the type of engineering plant, the types of propellers, the number and types of rudder, the location of the wheelhouse, the visibility from the bridge, whether or not the ship is loaded with cargo, radar interference, harbor characteristics, and other factors.
The bottom line is that the analysis of what went wrong is going to take some time. Making assumptions by looking at a couple of ship tracks would likely not help draw accurate conclusions. Historical data of similar sized and loaded ships, in similar conditions, might however. We’ll follow the investigation as it gains more insight into the incident.
We should also mention that the NTSB has taken on the investigation, classifying it as a “major casualty” and says that they will be reviewing the circumstances of the accident in light of the safety recommendations made following the Cosco Busan accident. Those recommendations are below:
As a result of the [COSCO BUSAN] investigation, the Safety Board made the following safety recommendations.
To the U.S. Coast Guard:
- Propose to the International Maritime Organization that it include a segment on cultural and language differences and their possible influence on mariner performance in its bridge resource management curricula. (M-09-1)
- Revise your vessel traffic service policies to ensure that vessel traffic service communications identify the vessel, not only the pilot, when vessels operate in pilotage waters. (M-09-2)
- Provide Coast Guard-wide guidance to vessel traffic service personnel that clearly defines expectations for the use of existing authority to direct or control vessel movement when such action is justified in the interest of safety. (M-09-3)
- Require mariners to report to the Coast Guard, in a timely manner, any substantive changes in their medical status or medication use that occur between required medical evaluations. (M-09-4) Supersedes M-05-5
- Establish a mechanism through which representatives of pilot oversight organizations collect and regularly communicate pilot performance data and information regarding pilot oversight and best practices. (M-09-5)
To Fleet Management Ltd.:
- When assigning a new crew to a vessel, ensure that all crewmembers are thoroughly familiar with vessel operations and company safety procedures before the vessel departs the port. (M-09-6)
- Provide safety management system manuals that are in the working language of a vessel’s crew. (M-09-7)
To the American Pilots’ Association:
- Inform your members of the circumstances of this accident, remind them that a pilot card is only a supplement to a verbal master/pilot exchange, and encourage your pilots to include vessel masters and/or the officer in charge of the navigational watch in all discussions and decisions regarding vessel navigation in pilotage waters. (M-09-8)
- Mike Schuler, Edited by Rob Almeida