The Petrogas Wharf with a tanker of similar size to the Levant docking starboard side to the wharf. Credit: Petrogas, LLC via NTSB

NTSB Blames Poor Bridge Resource Management for LPG Tanker’s Wharf Strike

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February 4, 2021

A ship carrying liquefied petroleum gas struck a Washington State wharf in 2019 because the pilot approached with excessive speed and at too steep an angle, resulting from poor bridge resource management by the Puget Sound pilot and the ship’s bridge team, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday.

The NTSB released the details of its investigation in Marine Accident Brief 21/02.

The 741.5-foot tanker Levant, owned by Avance Gas LTD and operated by Exmar Ship Management NV, had a partially loaded cargo of propane and butane when it struck the Petrogas Ferndale Wharf in Puget Sound, near Ferndale, Washington, on Dec. 15, 2019. The wharf’s south mooring dolphin and a catwalk were destroyed, while the Levant’s forward ballast tank was penetrated and flooded. There were no injuries or environmental damage, but the incident resulted in more than $8 million in damage, including $1.5 million to the ship.

The MT Levan had successfully docked at the wharf several days before the accident. After loading for about three days, the master, concerned about maintaining a safe under-keel clearance due to a falling tide, decided to stop loading their cargo and take the ship to deeper water for the night. For the shift to the anchorage, located 0.7 miles away, a pilot was brought on board. The pilot then stayed for the next day’s early morning approach back to the wharf when tidal conditions improved.

Investigators found a “condition of complacency” likely existed on the bridge because of the short distance back to the wharf. The master-pilot exchange of information was not as detailed as during the earlier briefing before leaving the wharf. The pilot and the master were also likely distracted by a two-minute, non-pertinent conversation they had about three minutes before contact.

In the Marine Accident Brief, the NTSB said the vigilance of a pilot and bridge team should be increased, not decreased, with a ship’s proximity to dangers and obstructions.

“Regardless of the distance or duration of a transit, the bridge resource management fundamentals of planning, communication, use of all available resources and information, monitoring and management of distractions are essential to operations with a pilot on board.”

 Marine Accident Brief 21/02 is available online on the NTSB’s website.

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