Detailed satellite image of the area where the G.M. McAllister contacted the NGL Energy Partners wharf. Source: Google Earth/ annotated by NTSB

NTSB Cites Pilot Error in Tugboat’s Allision with Wharf

Mike Schuler
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November 24, 2020

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has issued a marine accident brief related to its investigation into last year’s accident involving the G.M. McAllister striking a wharf on the Elizabeth River near Chesapeake, Virginia.

No injuries or pollution resulted from the accident, but damage to the wharf, owned by NGL Energy Partners, was estimated at $1.47 million and included damaged pilings and walkway.

The incident occurred as the G.M. McAllister and a second tug were assisting the bulk carrier Ijssel Confidence as it backed down the river toward a turning basin under docking pilot command. The NTSB describes the incident in an emailed statement:

“The undocking and transit to sea of the bulk carrier Ijssel Confidence was conducted with two 4,000-horsepower tugboats, the G.M. McAllister and the Nancy McAllister. After the ship left the berth, it proceeded downriver astern in a general westerly direction toward the turning basin, with the engine dead slow astern and the rudder midship.

“As the Ijssel Confidence approached the turning basin where the river started to bend northwest, the vessel’s astern speed continued to increase and its course over ground remained in a westerly direction. As the docking pilot attempted to slow the ship, the vessel moved towards to the south side of the river, away from Money Point, and the G.M. McAllister struck the NGL Energy Partners berth. During the NTSB’s investigation, both tugboat captains stated the Ijssel Confidence was moving too fast for the tugboats to work effectively.”

Top: G.M. McAllister at the NGL Energy Partners berth immediately after the accident (Source: Master, Ijssel Confidence). Bottom left and bottom right: Damaged NGL Energy Partners berth after the accident (Source of right photo: US Coast Guard).

The NTSB cited the docking pilot’s actions in its determination of probable cause.

“The NTSB determined the probable cause of the contact of the G.M McAllister with the NGL Energy Partners berth was the docking pilot backing down the river toward the turning basin at a speed at which the assist tugboats could not be effectively used,” the NTSB said.

The brief describes the docking pilot as an experienced former tugboat captain and mate who had docked hundreds of ships in the accident area of the river, mostly using more maneuverable tractor tugboats.

“In this accident, the docking pilot neglected to take into account the conventional tugboats’ reduced effectiveness and the additive effect to the ship’s speed,” the NTSB stated.

“I wish he had said… I can’t work my stern,” the docking pilot told investigators, referring to the captain of the G.M. McAllister.

Read the Briefing: Marine Accident Brief 20/37

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