NTSB reports on 2018 Sunshine Bridge allision

Written by Nick Blenkey
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An October 2018 incident that resulted in $6.7 million of damage to the Sunshine Bridge on the Lower Mississippi River is the latest in the ever-growing list of bridge allisions to be the subject of a National Transportation Safety Board marine accident report,

The incident occurred on October 12, 2018, about 0141 local time. The Marquette Transportation towing vessel Kristin Alexis was transiting with the Cooper Consolidate crane barge Mr Ervin upbound near St. James, La., when the crane struck the deck of the Sunshine Bridge while passing under the west channel span.

No pollution or injuries to the six crewmembers on board the Kristin Alexis were reported. The bridge was completely closed to vehicular traffic for 49 days while repairs were made, which resulted in significant traffic impacts. Damage to the bridge was $6.7 million, while crane damage was estimated at $8,500.

​The NTSB determines that the probable cause of the Mr Ervin crane barge striking the Sunshine Bridge was the inadequate voyage planning and watch turnover between the captain and pilot, resulting in the pilot transiting beneath the bridge’s west span instead of its channel span. Contributing to the accident was the lack of company oversight. Also contributing to the accident was the charted information for the bridge used by the pilot, which did not reflect the actual vertical clearance of the west span.

As always, the bare bones NTSB summary only tells part of the story.

Among things covered in the full report are the history of previous bridge strikes.

“According to a Coast Guard study, between 2004 and 2014, there were 205 reported bridge strikes (referred to as allisions by the Coast Guard) in the United States,” says the NTSB report. “Of those, 125 incidents involved barges and/or towboats. The study indicated that ‘the most common fault or reason that a bridge allision occurs is due to a loss of situation awareness, attention to detail, or tasks in voyage planning that needed to be completed during the transit to ensure safe passage.’

“Additionally, the Eighth Coast Guard District, where this accident occurred, saw nearly three times as many bridge strikes as any other district.”

The NTSB report notes that, in 2015, a Coast Guard Towing Safety Advisory Committee (TSAC) put together a task force to provide recommendations to identify solutions for preventing allisions between towing vessels and tows with structures (such as bridges) cargo barges. In the TSAC’s final report on air draft, dated May 10, 2016, the committee recommended that all towing safety management systems:

“clearly state that it is the towing vessel master’s responsibility to review properly published information on overhead clearance, and, based on this information determine and verify all overhead clearance issues along the intended route as part of Voyage Planning / Navigational Watch Assessment. The Master must be allowed to rely on the published height of any overhead clearances and has no duty to independently verify this information.”

The TSAC also recommended that when a third-party vessel (barge, crane, etc.) is being towed, the third-party owner should be responsible for providing accurate air draft information to the operator moving that tow.

The detailed findings of the NTSB in the 2018 Sunshine Bridge allision can be found in the complete report. Download it HERE.

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