NTSB: Poor bridge resource management led to $6 million LPG tanker strike on wharf

Written by Nick Blenkey
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NTSB seal

A National Transportation Safety Boa​rd Marine Accident Brief says that an 83,000-cubic-meter LPG tanker struck a Washington State wharf on December 15, 2019, because the pilot approached with excessive speed and at too steep an angle, resulting from poor bridge resource management by the pilot and the ship’s bridge team.

The 741.5-foot partially loaded LPG gas carrier Levant, owned by Avance Gas and operated by Exmar struck the Petrogas Ferndale Wharf in Puget Sound, near Ferndale, Wash., on December 15, 2019, causing more than $8 million in damage.

The mooring dolphin and catwalk connecting it to the wharf were destroyed, and the Levant’s forward ballast tank was penetrated and flooded.

Damage to the vessel was estimated at $1.5 million. Damage to the south mooring dolphin and adjoining catwalk was estimated at $6.75 million.

There were no injuries to the vessel’s crew or persons on the wharf. There was no release of pollutants or the ship’s liquefied cargo of propane and butane. There was no environmental damage.

The Levant had successfully docked at the wharf several days earlier. The master, concerned about maintaining a safe under-keel clearance due to a falling tide, decided to stop loading the cargo of propane and butane and take the ship to deeper water for the night. For the shift to the anchorage, 0.7 miles away, a Puget Sound 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.

CONDITION OF COMPLACENCY

According to the NTSB, 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 likely distracted by a two-minute, non-pertinent conversation they had about three minutes before contact, says NTSB.

In the brief, the NTSB says 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.

The Marine Accident Brief concludes with this notice:

Passage Planning for Short Transits

Regardless of the length of the transit or maneuver, the master/pilot exchange is a critical opportunity for a pilot and bridge team to establish and share necessary information (shared mental model) for the task ahead.

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