Lack of Communication ID’d as Probable Cause of 2015 Houston Ship Channel Collision

The chemical tanker Carla Maersk sits at anchor off Morgans Point, Texas, after being involved in a collision with the bulk carrier Conti Peridot March 9, 2015.
Damage to the chemical tanker Carla Maersk after being involved in a collision with the bulk carrier Conti Peridot in the Houston Ship Channel off Morgan’s Point, March 9, 2015. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard

A pilot’s inability to respond appropriately to hydrodynamic forces and a lack of communication was found to be the probable cause between a bulk carrier and a Maersk chemical tanker in the Houston Ship Channel in March 2015, the National Transportation Safety Board has determined.

Sheer Will: The Story of the Port of Houston and the Houston Ship Channell
Related Book: Sheer Will: The Story of the Port of Houston and the Houston Ship Channel by David H Falloure

The collision between the 623-foot bulk carrier Conti Peridot and 600-foot tanker Carla Maersk occurred on a foggy morning on March 9, 2015 and resulted in the release of approximately 88,200 gallons of methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) from the Carla Maersk. The incident cause the Houston Ship Channel to be closed for three days. 

The NTSB investigation into the collision determined that the probable cause of the collision was the inability of the pilot on the Conti Peridot to respond appropriately to hydrodynamic forces after meeting another vessel during restricted visibility, and his lack of communication with other vessels about this handling difficulty controlling his vessel, the NTSB said during a public meeting in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.

“The collision occurred in restricted visibility after the pilot on the Conti Peridot was unable to control the heading fluctuations that the bulk carrier was experiencing during the transit. As a result, the Conti Peridot crossed the channel into the path of the Carla Maersk,” the NTSB said in a synopsis of the report. 

Contributing to the circumstances that resulted in the collision was the inadequate bridge resource management between the master and the pilot on the Conti Peridot.

The chemical tanker Carla Maersk and the bulk carrier Conti Peridot off Morgan's Point, Texas, March 10, 2015, after being involved in a collision March 9, 2015. U.S. Coast Guard Photo
The chemical tanker Carla Maersk and bulk carrier Conti Peridot sit at anchor in the Houston Ship Channl, March 10, 2015, a day after the collision. U.S. Coast Guard Photo

The NTSB noted on twitter that the collision was the fifth accident the NTSB has investigated since 2011 involving large vessels in or near the Houston Ship Channel.

“No ships sank and no lives were lost in this collision, but the release of more than 88,000 gallons of MTBE into the waterway, which resulted in the surrounding communities sheltering in place immediately following the release of the hazardous materials, underscores the severity of this accident,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart. “The Houston Ship Channel also supports one of our nation’s busiest seaports, hosting more than 60 ship and 350 barge movements each day. Accidents that disrupt navigation of this vital waterway can have significant impacts, not only to our environment, but also to our economy. Effective bridge resource management can make the difference between a near-miss and a tragic accident, and this is particularly true in the narrow and congested Houston Ship Channel.”

The NTSB identified three safety issues in the accident including insufficient pilot communications, inadequate bridge resource management, and the lack of predetermined ship movement strategies during restricted visibility in the Houston Ship Channel.

The NTSB issued three new safety recommendations to Bremer Bereederungsgesellschaft mbH & Co., (the operating company of the Conti Peridot), the Houston Pilots Association, and the Lone Star Harbor Safety Committee, based upon the findings of the investigation.

To view the findings and recommendations from the NTSB, see HERE

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