Collision between MT Carla Maersk and MV Conti Peridot in the Houston Ship Channel

From gCaptain: Houston Ship Channel Collision: NTSB’s Preliminary Marine Accident Report

On Monday, March 9, 2015, at about 1231 central daylight time, the Liberian registered, 623-foot-long bulk carrier Conti Peridot and the 599-foot-long Danish flagged chemical tanker Carla Maersk collided near buoys 89 and 90 in the Houston Ship Channel, Upper Galveston Bay, southeast of Morgan’s Point, Texas.
After weighing anchor offshore at the entrance to the Houston Ship Channel and boarding a pilot, the Conti Peridot proceeded inbound at about 0930 up the channel to City Dock 24 to discharge its cargo of steel rolls. About the same time, the Carla Maersk departed Kinder Morgan Terminal in Galena Park, Texas, with a pilot on board and carrying 216,049 barrels (bbls) of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) outbound for Venezuela.
The Conti Peridot got under way in good visibility. The Carla Maersk departed in light rain with a low cloud ceiling. As the vessels proceeded with their transits, radio transmissions between vessels reported developing fog in the Houston Ship Channel. At 1130, Houston Pilots suspended pilot boarding at the entrance channel due to fog. Piloted vessels already under way continued their transits.

An hour later, with visibility estimated by the Conti Peridot pilot to be a ship’s length, preliminary data indicate both vessels were at half-ahead traveling just over 8 knots as they approached each other south of Morgan’s Point.
The pilot on the Conti Peridot was having trouble returning to the channel center after passing another vessel and initiated a port-to-port passing arrangement with the pilot on the Carla Maersk. After this arrangement was made, preliminary data show the Conti Peridot moved to the left side of the channel and then back to the right. At this time, the Conti Peridot pilot ordered hard starboard and full ahead in an effort to counter his vessel’s anticipated movement to the left. The pilot on the Conti Peridot warned the pilot on the Carla Maersk that he was coming back across the centerline of the channel toward his vessel. When the pilot on the Carla Maersk saw the bow of the Conti Peridot emerge from the fog, he ordered hard starboard and full ahead in an effort to avoid what he perceived to be an imminent collision.
The Conti Peridot’s bow struck the port side of the Carla Maersk, penetrating the two port wing ballast tanks and the no. 4 port cargo tank, which held about 15,495 bbls of MTBE. After the impact, the Carla Maersk developed a port list, and the crew took action to move cargo and ballast to correct the list. No injuries were reported onboard either vessel.
MTBE is a colorless, flammable liquid with a turpentine-like odor; its vapors are heavier than air, and it is miscible in water. The Houston Port Authority initially responded to the incident due to the release of hazardous materials, and a Unified Command was established soon after the collision to manage the emergency response operations and planning.
The US Coast Guard classified the accident as a major marine casualty. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the lead federal investigative agency for the accident, launched a team of investigators and a Board Member to the scene the following morning.

While on scene, investigators retrieved data from vessel voyage data recorders (VDR), electronic navigation systems, and alarms as well as closed circuit television systems along the waterway. Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) Houston data were also collected. Investigators noted the operational condition of propulsion machinery and tested the steering systems aboard each vessel. They also interviewed officers and crewmembers from both vessels, the two Houston pilots, and VTS watchstanders. Drug and alcohol testing was conducted for relevant personnel. Results are pending at this time.
Parties to the investigation are the US Coast Guard, Carla Maersk owner, Conti Peridot owner, flag administrations for Liberia and Denmark, Houston Pilot Association, and the Board of Pilot Commissioners for Harris County Ports. Via NTSB

How many serious collisions have there been in the Houston Ship Canal in fog lately? This is the second that I recall. I recently made a trip up the canal. I was not an hour up the channel when the fog closed down to zero visibility. The Channel should be closed down when fog is forecast. Houston Pilots are generally good but playing Texas Chicken in the fog is bullshit.

The NTSB Preliminary Marine Accident Report released that;

« [I]The Conti Peridot pilot ordered hard starboard and [U]full ahead [/U]in an effort to counter his vessel’s anticipated movement to port.[/I] »

« [I]When the pilot on the Carla Maersk saw the bow of the Conti Peridot emerge from the fog, he ordered hard starboard and [U]full ahead [/U]in an effort to avoid what he perceived to be an imminent collision.[/I] »

I wonder if vessels calling Houston are equipped with engine order telegraph or engine remote control devices, than can still ring bonus order further than Full Ahead like some sort of Full Astern?

Getting under way from a safe berth through dense fog is not the smartest decision apart from pleasing economic pressure. Holding vessels alongside due to crystal ball fog forecast would need a lot of authority. But coming across fog while in transit is another matter. Anchoring in a narrow channel is usually not recommended except in case of force majeure. Anchoring safely a deeply laden leviathan inside a narrow channel along with a following tidal current or a nasty wind without tug(s), require more luck than ability. The only plan left is to reduce speed to the minimum at which the vessel can be well kept on her course and navigate with extreme caution. Knowing your radar errors, turning marks and distances off by heart, used in conjunction with a state of the art approved portable ECDIS DGPS-WAAS that you are equally well familiar with and trained for.

[QUOTE=Topsail;158542]Getting under way from a safe berth through dense fog is not the smartest decision apart from pleasing economic pressure. Holding vessels alongside due to crystal ball fog forecast would need a lot of authority. But coming across fog while in transit is another matter. Anchoring in a narrow channel is usually not recommended except in case of force majeure. Anchoring safely a deeply laden leviathan inside a narrow channel along with a following tidal current or a nasty wind without tug(s), require more luck than ability. The only plan left is to reduce speed to the minimum at which the vessel can be well kept on her course and navigate with extreme caution. Knowing your radar errors, turning marks and distances off by heart, used in conjunction with a state of the art approved portable ECDIS DGPS-WAAS that you are equally well familiar with and trained for.[/QUOTE]

That’s a tough call to make if the forecast calls for fog but there’s no sign of it at sailing time. That’s something where the pilots would probably be best placed to make that decision, they would presumably have experience with fog conditions around Houston and would know, based on observation, that fog was likely soon.

It’s been many many moons since I’ve been down that way, but I don’t seem to remember many–indeed any–good places to anchor above Bolivar Roads. So if you’re underway in the channel and fog sets down suddenly, you’re pretty well forced to continue the transit, yeah?

One thing I can see the pilots involved having a hard time justifying is their respective speeds–with the fog they really should have been on bare steerageway. You know, kind of like the rules say. Playing Texas Chicken in fog is hazardous enough. Playing Texas Chicken in fog with excessive speed AND one of the pilots already having difficulty maintaining his position in the channel–well, we can read the results.

Wonder what mandatory STCW course is going to come out of this?

[QUOTE=awulfclark;158547]That’s a tough call to make if the forecast calls for fog but there’s no sign of it at sailing time. That’s something where the pilots would probably be best placed to make that decision, they would presumably have experience with fog conditions around Houston and would know, based on observation, that fog was likely soon.[/QUOTE]

Sail / no-sail decisions based on wind forecast are made all the time. If a ship can’t be safely moored in, say 35 kt winds then it’s not safe if the forecast at the time of the mooring operations is 45 kts. Be hard to justify an incident.

When the Carla Maresk let go the conditions were low overcast and rain.

[QUOTE=Kennebec Captain;158549]Sail / no-sail decisions based on wind forecast are made all the time. If a ship can’t be safely moored in, say 35 kt winds then it’s not safe if the forecast at the time of the mooring operations is 45 kts. Be hard to justify an incident.

When the Carla Maresk let go the conditions were low overcast and rain.[/QUOTE]

Absolutely. It’s pretty easy to say, we’ve got eighteen million square feet of sail area (slight exaggeration), wind is blowing 35 knots, nothing you can do about that, there’s not a whole lot the company can reply with. But with fog, the company could put pressure on: “Hey, we outfitted you with radars, get a move on!” For me the solution to the problem is for the pilot to be firm and say, hells no, we ain’t going. What’s the company going to do, go with the rival pilot association?..

If the low overcast and rain were already restricting visibility and there was a fog forecast, then the pilot and captain on the Carla might have more to answer for.

They don’t play around with that at the Panama Canal. Last time I went thru they kept us all overnight in Lake Gatun, because of fog.

Every single time you come on board as a pilot prior departure from a safe berth into dense fog, if you ask the captain if he is all set to sail, he will answer yes even if he does not see the first row of containers in front of the bridge. If you advise him that it would be safer to hold down a second until the visibility improves, he will call his agent and as soon as he gets him on the line, he will pass you his phone to explain the reasons why you delay [U]his[/U] vessel! It only happen me once that the captain said; « Well, will go down for lunch until the visibility improves » …

[QUOTE=Kennebec Captain;158549] When the Carla Maresk let go the conditions were low overcast and rain.[/QUOTE]

Too little too late, you are then go to proceed and will proceed !

[QUOTE=Topsail;158558]Every single time you come on board as a pilot prior departure from a safe berth into dense fog, if you ask the captain if he is all set to sail, he will answer yes even if he does not see the first row of containers in front of the bridge. If you advise him that it would be safer to hold down a second until the visibility improves, he will call his agent and as soon as he gets him on the line, he will pass you his phone to explain the reasons why you delay [U]his[/U] vessel! It only happen me once that the captain said; « Well, will go down for lunch until the visibility improves » …[/QUOTE]

It’s one thing when it’s already socked-in fog. It’s another thing when, as in the case of the Conti Peridot, the visibility was good and only during the transit did the fog begin developing. It can be difficult to tell the ship’s captain and the company/agent that fog is predicted during the time of the transit and the vessel really shouldn’t proceed. What happens if the decision is made to not proceed, and then the predicted fog just never develops? The flip-side, of course, is what happened in the collision in question.

What are the ramifications to the pilots if a decision is made to not proceed and that decision turns out to be unfounded?

[QUOTE=awulfclark;158547]That’s a tough call to make if the forecast calls for fog but there’s no sign of it at sailing time.[/QUOTE]

At the time of departure, if the pilot is confident with the actual or existing visibility vs. the vessel’s conditions and the traffic situation, the vessel will proceed. If the weather forecast calls for fog, he will deal with it in transit not by awaiting for it alongside.

[QUOTE=awulfclark;158547] What are the ramifications to the pilots if a decision is made to not proceed and that decision turns out to be unfounded?[/QUOTE]

I never saw that situation but the other way around, i.e. vessels maneuvering in all kinds of weather conditions, I’ve seen it numerous of times! After thousands of trips, you kind of gain a certain level of confidence but hopefully not, overconfidence! Then, you can be called before the board … :wink:

The COTP can close the port for any reason it wants. The question of “Why the Port of Houston remains open for navigation during fog?” should be directed to them.

[QUOTE=lm1883;158568]The COTP can close the port for any reason it wants. The question of “Why the Port of Houston remains open for navigation during fog?” should be directed to them.[/QUOTE]

The channel does get closed in fog, I’ve always assumed that it was the pilots that made the call.

Why did the Pilot on the Conti initiate an overtaking pass of another vessel in fog, just before meeting the Carla M.? Could he not anticipate any difficulty in getting back into alignment in his side of the channel? Hindsight is 20/20 and maybe the guy he overtook was going slower than bare steerage way, but I would not initiate a pass under those circumstances unless I absolutely had to for some reason.

[QUOTE=Slowsailor;158573]Why did the Pilot on the Conti initiate an overtaking pass of another vessel in fog, just before meeting the Carla M.? Could he not anticipate any difficulty in getting back into alignment in his side of the channel? Hindsight is 20/20 and maybe the guy he overtook was going slower than bare steerage way, but I would not initiate a pass under those circumstances unless I absolutely had to for some reason.[/QUOTE]

I’d have to watch the video again to be sure but I think the first encounter was a meeting situation as well. Even so I think you bring up a good point. Seems the reason the Conti was out of shape and on the wrong side of the channel is because of that first encounter.

[QUOTE=Slowsailor;158573]Why did the Pilot on the Conti initiate an overtaking pass of another vessel in fog, just before meeting the Carla M.? Could he not anticipate any difficulty in getting back into alignment in his side of the channel? Hindsight is 20/20 and maybe the guy he overtook was going slower than bare steerage way, but I would not initiate a pass under those circumstances unless I absolutely had to for some reason.[/QUOTE]

NTSB. At 1130, Houston Pilots suspended pilot boarding at the entrance channel due to fog. Piloted vessels already under way continued their transits. An hour later, with visibility estimated by the Conti Peridot pilot to be a ship’s length, preliminary data indicate both vessels were at half-ahead traveling just over 8 knots as they approached each other south of Morgan’s Point.

The pilot on the Conti Peridot was having trouble returning to the channel center after passing another vessel and initiated a port-to-port passing arrangement with the pilot on the Carla Maersk. After this arrangement was made, preliminary data show the Conti Peridot moved to the left side of the channel and then back to the right.

Where do you see that Conti Peridot overtook another vessel in dense fog just before meeting Carla Maersk? What about bank interaction against your will, by finding yourself too close to the channel side since you see Nada Zero apart whatever comes from the electronics.

You are right KC, it was a meeting, I skimmed through on fast forward the 1st play and thought he had overtaken the pink square. Maybe he was out of shape because he couldn’t see the ranges or buoys due to the fog.

(Topsail, we posted at the same time but you guys are right, he did not overtake)

But it says he was out of shape because he overtook another vessel (in restricted vis??) prior to meeting the Carla Maersk??? Just going by what the report says.

[QUOTE=z-drive;158601]But it says he was out of shape because he overtook another vessel (in restricted vis??) prior to meeting the Carla Maersk??? Just going by what the report says.[/QUOTE]

The report says he “passed” another vessel. Unclear language at best. Apparently in the video it was a meeting situation.

I still can’t help thinking that, if each vessel involved had been on bare steerageway this all may have been avoided.