Tug runs aground on same reef as Exxon Valdez

<abbr title=“2009-12-24T12:55:15-0800” class=“recenttimedate”>7 mins ago</abbr><!-- end .byline --> ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A tugboat put in service to help prevent another oil spill disaster in Prince William Sound ran aground on the same reef as the Exxon Valdez 20 years ago in what remains the nation’s worst oil spill.
The Coast Guard said Thursday that the 136-foot tug with six crew aboard had just completed an ice survey and was heading back to port in Valdez when it grounded on Bligh Reef. The tug reported the grounding in a radio call at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday.
Two of the tug’s fuel tanks were damaged. The tanks contain an estimated 33,500 gallons of diesel fuel, about a quarter of their total capacity.
The Coast Guard said Thursday that there was a fuel sheen about 3 miles long and 30 feet wide that had drifted away from the vessel. There was no sheen visible around the tug.

Story- here http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20091224/ap_on_bi_ge/us_tug_grounded_exxon_valdez

UPDATE 1: The Coast Guard, Alaska Department of Conservation, Crowley Marine, Ship Escort Response Vessel System and O’Brien’s Group as part of the incident management team are responding to the earlier grounding of the 136-foot Crowley tug Pathfinder on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound Wednesday evening. Two of the tug’s center-line diesel fuel tanks were reported breached with potential spill of 33, 500 gallons. The total capacity of the vessel is approximately 127, 700 gallons of diesel fuel.
A dive team transported by the vessel Alaska Challenger to conduct a hull inspection, reported extensive damage to the hull, including a 4-5 foot section of the keel missing. A barge is being brought to the Pathfinder in preparation for lightering the diesel fuel.
The tug was working for SERVS scouting the shipping route from Valdez to Hinchinbrook Entrance for ice buildup.
Alcohol testing of all six crewmembers was completed with negative results.
Currently one Coast Guard inspector from Marine Safety Unit Valdez is on the Pathfinder. The vessels Valdez Star, Alaska Challenger and the Invader are also on scene with pollution response equipment.
A Coast Guard C-130 flight is scheduled for 10 a.m. and a MH-60 helicopter flight is scheduled to take the federal on-scene commander to the scene.


The Coast Guard, State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and Crowley Marine Services have established a unified command and are working jointly to address the environmental impact and response efforts concerning the grounding of the tug Pathfinder Wednesday evening. The establishment of a unified command is a way for agencies that share overlapping jurisdictions and responsibilities for an event and can manage the response from a single command post. A unified command allows agencies with different legal, geographic, and functional authorities and responsibilities to work together effectively without affecting individual agency authority, responsibility, or accountability. Under a unified command, a single, coordinated action plan will direct all activities. The incident commanders will supervise a single command and general staff organization and speak with one voice.
Currently, the Coast Guard Cutter Long Island is on scene. Two Coast Guard Aircraft, a C-130 and an MH-60 helicopter have arrived to get aerial views of the situation.
The Valdez Star, an oil response vessel is skimming the water in the vicinity of the light silver diesel sheen. The sheen is 1 to 1.5 miles east of Glacier Island and is approximately 3 miles long and 30 yards wide.
The tug Pathfinder is still anchored and boomed off south of Busby Island. The vessel is no longer sheening and plan developments to lighter the tug Pathfinder are underway at the unified command center.

I’m glad to hear that the crew is safe- hope they get to spend it with those they love.:slight_smile: Wherever they are- I’m sure they’ll be grateful this Christmas…

Alaska Dispatch

[B]All ahead stop[/B]

Craig Medred
Dec 30, 2009
None of the fancy technology aboard the 136-foot tug Pathfinder – not the satellite positioning system, not the radar, not the depth finder capable of sounding depth warnings – prevented a Dec. 23 collision with Bligh Reef, and Alaskans monitoring oil tanker safety in Prince William Sound say that ought to serve as a warning for everyone concerned about the northern environment.

The Pathfinder grounding, they say, makes it clear Congress needs to reauthorize a requirement all tankers leaving Port Valdez laden with North Slope crude be accompanied by tugs to port and starboard as has been the case since shortly after the Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef in 1989 and started leaking oil. By the time oil stopped gushing from its cracked hull, there were nearly 11 million gallons in the water and one of the worst environmental disasters in North American history was starting to unfold.

"We think you still need the backup of these escorts,’’ Stan Jones, director of external affairs Prince William Sound Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council, said this week.

"It’s probably the most important thing we can do,’’ added Stan Stephens, a charter boat skipper in Valdez for more than 40 years. "Not everyone is going to screw up.’’

As Stephens points out, the simple beauty of the so-called “Ship Escort Response Vessel System” implemented in the wake of the Exxon Valdez disaster is that it requires three key people – the tanker pilot and the skippers of two tugs – to screw up for a tanker to hit the reef. Given the almost legendary independence of skippers in Alaska, Stephens said, it is hard to imagine that the captain of a tug to one side of a tanker or the other won’t be on the radio pronto wondering what is going on if a tanker even hints at straying form the shipping lane. Most likely, both tug skippers will be on the radio demanding to know what is happening.

Stephens and many others believe these extra eyes aboard the tugs to either side of a tanker trump any sort of technology that might be used to prevent another oil spill. In the case of the Pathfinder, Jones notes, there was only one crew watching what was going on, and though that Crowley Maritime crew was aided by plenty of technology, something still went wrong.

Not only did the navigation systems aboard the tug somehow fail to alert the crew to danger, Jones said, so did the Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Center in Valdez, which is supposed to track tankers and tugs using the shipping lane into and out of Valdez. The center has radar watching the Sound, and the tankers and tugs are supposed to carry “position and identification reporting equipment” to enable the traffic center to track them in much the way air-traffic controllers follow the movement of airplanes fitted with transponders. And yet the Pathfinder somehow strayed off course even farther than the Exxon Valdez. The latter struck bottom in about 35 feet of water. The former had to get so close to the center of the reef that its keel hit the rocks in 17 feet.

"We don’t know if they were watching (in the traffic center),’’ Jones said, "or if they were watching and didn’t do anything. These are both questions we are trying to get answers to. So far, the Coast Guard are playing their cards awfully close to their chest.’’

The Coast Guard says it is investigating both the grounding of the Pathfinder and the performance of the Vessel Traffic Center. Jones said the advisory council wholly endorses the former investigation, but has some reservations about the latter. It can be hard for federal agencies to impartially investigate themselves, Jones said.

Meanwhile, as the investigation begins, the advisory council is renewing efforts to make sure the Ship Escort Response Vessel System is kept in place for all tankers leaving Valdez. Legally, the SRVS is required only for single-hull tankers, which are now being phased out of service in favor of safer, double-hulled vessels. Though double-hulled tankers will help prevent oil spills, Jones said, a Coast Guard study after the Exxon Valdez concluded that even if that ship had been double-hulled, millions of gallons of oil would still have poured into Prince William Sound to coat and kill seabirds, otters and other marine life.

"With great assistance from Rep. Don Young,’’ Jones said, language requiring the long-term continuation of the SERVS for all tankers was approved earlier this year by the U.S. House of Representatives as part of a budget bill for the Coast Guard. But the SERVS provision is not in the Senate version of that bill. Jones is hopeful that with the support of Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski-® and Mark Begich-(D), it will be included.

Jones admits it would be cheaper for oil companies to move North Slope crude without the cost of contracting Crowley Maritime to provide tug escorts, but the money spent on prevention could save a fortune on potential clean-up costs later. Prevention of an oil spill, he said, is better than any possible clean-up effort.

"Our goal is to keep the oil out of the water in the first place,’’ Jones said.

Stephens confessed he doesn’t understand how the Pathfinder, like the Exxon Valdez, ran aground, but then again he does understand. And in that dichotomy is the lesson.

"We still haven’t solved the human factor,’’ Stephens said.

Marine accidents share a common thread with aircraft accidents. Many if not most of them, in the end, come down to that problem called “human error” in part or in whole.

“This is really a hard one to understand,” Stephens said. "There’s just absolutely no justification for it happening, The Coast Guard should have been watching them. We’re not going to know until the Coast Guard comes out with its report’’ exactly what happened in the Pathfinder case. But, he added, mariners already know what happened to the Exxon Valdez, and it wasn’t just that Capt. Joseph Hazelwood had a drinking problem. It was that navigational errors were made by people on the ship’s bridge who weren’t paying attention.

“It’s strictly human error,” Stephens said, “being where you’re not supposed to be. It’s usually human error. There are lessons to be learned from this. The more eyes the better.”

If Congress is unwilling to approve a SERVS provision that will keep extra eyes out on the Sound watching over tankers, he said, the state had best step up with a requirement for its own SERVS-style system.

Contact Craig Medred at craig_alaskadispatch.com

Apologies in advance as this is not intended as a sales pitch, and for the sake of full disclosure this is posted in the Company’s name.
However, there is some fancy technology that was not present on the vessel and had it been, and being used, it may have been useful for the watchkeepers in this particular situation.

[quote=FarSounder;23855]Apologies in advance as this is not intended as a sales pitch, and for the sake of full disclosure this is posted in the Company’s name.
However, there is some fancy technology that was not present on the vessel and had it been, and being used, it may have been useful for the watchkeepers in this particular situation.[/quote]

[I][B]Is it full moon? or just me today?[/B][/I]

That is almost funny. They didn’t use the fancy technology that was already fitted and probably figured they didn’t need to look out the window because they had technology to protect them. :rolleyes:

I say it’s almost funny because the kneejerk reaction is to add another layer of technology between seamanship and the world outside the wheelhouse.

FYI: The tug shown in Update 1 above is not the Pathfinder it is the Sea Voyager. Ironically the Pathfinder was one of the tugs that came to the aid of the “Exxon Valdez” at Bligh Reef 20 years ago!

[quote=FarSounder;23855]Apologies in advance as this is not intended as a sales pitch, and for the sake of full disclosure this is posted in the Company’s name.
However, there is some fancy technology that was not present on the vessel and had it been, and being used, it may have been useful for the watchkeepers in this particular situation.[/quote]

What we don’t need is MORE information showered upon us. To hell with fancy technology. Basic, prudent seamanship is what is missing in many a wheelhouse today.

It is simple: Eyes up, out the windows, and on the Radar. Put away your goddamn iPhone, plot your position at appropriate intervals using Radar ranges and bearings, double-check that position with GPS and for Christ’s sake, pull the throttles back (if you have a barge in tow be mindful of that) and call the Captain at the very first sign of doubt about [B][I]anything[/I][/B].

With a very well known and well marked reef it is hard to imagine anything else that should have been necessary to avoid it.

<meta http-equiv=“CONTENT-TYPE” content=“text/html; charset=utf-8”><title></title><meta name=“GENERATOR” content=“OpenOffice.org 3.1 (Win32)”><style type=“text/css”> <!-- @page { margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } --> </style> I could not agree more about the practice of good seamanship. I also believe that almost every marine incident involving a collision or grounding could have been prevented by the practice of good seamanship. But alas, as the evidence dictates, not all sailors are so blessed with the appropriate seamanship skills.

We are also living in an extreme technological age and we have to accept that, although for sure, the marine industry will have to be dragged screaming and kicking to the table.

Who of us think nothing of getting into our car cocooned with ABS, traction control, airbags up the wazoo and bluetooth GPS? I have a rally driver friend who pulls the fuses of his ABS and traction control, but then he knows how to drive.

Use a road atlas? If I could find it, it would be years out of date! Leave my cell phone at home and take a pocket full of quarters for the pay phone…how do they work again? Stop reading the news on the computer and start ordering the paper again…the challenge of turning the pages neatly? The list goes on

When radar came out, (so long ago now that we just take it for granted), it was fancy technology. So fancy in fact that many masters had it under lock and key and would not let it be used. Although I must admit, it was always a pleasure to turn it off for days at a time once out of sight of land. Do seagoing folks still do that these days?

GPS is now accepted and also a carriage requirement, right alongside the compass, echosounder and speedlog. And what about ECDIS (?) also mandated under IMO.

Technology is coming whether we want or not, or whether we believe in it or not. The question perhaps is how best to use it? Radar and GPS are accepted and seen as a part of the “practice of good seamanship”, just as an echosounder and speedlog are. The advantages are clear.

It is widely accepted that seaman are some of the most versatile and adaptable people around…they are not frightened of fire as caveman was! Maybe we can not turn back the clock, and perhaps the prudent mariner is a dying breed, (excluding the honorable members of gCaptain of course), but just as surely as the Earth revolves around the Sun (or is that the other way round?), the mariner will adapt, even if he will not necessarily accept.

All the fancy electronics are worthless without proper training. That training needs to emphasize what can go wrong, and how to realize when you’re being given improper information. Does the typical mariner know to check the A/D converter when they’re told over the VHF that their AIS is transmitting incorrect heading information? Does the typical mariner know what an AIS reporting interval is, and why it changes? Does the typical mariner know the difference between an averaged GPS display and a real time one? Does the typical mariner know how to identify when his ownship icon has been offset on the ECDIS?

In my experience as an eNav instructor, the answer is no. Until the answer is a resounding YES, I will not jump on the “lets get rid of paper charts!” bandwagon.

They typical mariner looks at a computer display and believes that what he or she sees is true. That is the legacy of modern technology. We see, we believe. And in the aviation world, that is what they are trained to do. But in the maritime world, the equipment is not held to the same standards, training is woefully inadequate, and the manufacturers of these devices continue to pile on “features” without consideration for the user.

I attended the eNav 2009 conference in Seattle a couple of months ago. There was lots of good discussion and give and take regarding the coming ECDIS carriage requirement. It is coming, whether one likes it or not.

Shipping companies must accept the fact that the need for comprehensive and continuing training regarding the use of ECDIS, AIS, and GPS, is imperative. They need to train the mariner to understand that these should always be used as secondary navigation devices. Until they can make a computer that won’t shut down, ECDIS in my humble opinion is merely a backup to my primary navigation instruments, which are my eyes and my radars. Radar reliability in my personal experience is over 90%, given the fact that most vessels I have sailed on have two units. But computers, in my personal experience as a computer user since the 1970s, are notoriously unreliable and vulnerable to external forces both good and evil.

It is also important to understand that the majority US vessels will never have a true ECDIS on board. You will have ECS (electronic charting systems). True ECDIS systems have built in redundancy, two of everything, etc. Where are you going to fit all that on a tug? A true ECDIS system is unbelievably expensive to install and maintain. But I hear, all the time, guys referring to their ECS systems as “the ECDIS”. An ECDIS it ain’t.

Here’s some food for thought: I can screw up an ECS or ECDIS on any vessel, anywhere, in about ten seconds, and unless the officer on watch is thoroughly trained to recognize the error I induced, he’d never know it. The ECDIS would look nice and pretty and give that warm and fuzzy feeling all over while the ship sits hard aground. And some officers I know would argue that we can’t be aground, the ECDIS says we’re in the middle of the channel!

Treat your eNav equipment with a healthy dose of informed skepticism, and you’ll be way ahead of the average Joe. You have to know that equipment inside and out in order to properly use it.

I realize that RADAR was looked on with scorn when it first came out. Why? Because companies slapped them on the ships and didn’t train the sailors how to use them. That’s where the term RADAR assisted collision came from. There are classic case studies discussing those incidents. Now, we’re seeing cases of ECDIS assisted collisions and allisions. Take the “Cosco Busan” for example. I wouldn’t be surprised if we learn that the “Pathfinder” ECS was improperly operated by an untrained crew. We also hear of AIS assisted collisions, the one that comse to mind happened in Europe where the watch officers were making passing arrangements using AIS text messaging, their faces in the MKD while their ships collided.

Proper training would have gone a long way toward avoiding these events. In the meantime, never forget that your primary navigation instruments are, in this order:
Your eyes.
Your radar.
Your experience.
Your intuition.

Use all the fancy gee-whiz eNav stuff as secondary information sources and you will be a safer watch officer. Push your companies to get you quality in-depth training on the use of this equipment or it is just a huge waste of time and money and is dangerous to have on the bridge of your vessel.

What truly frightens me though is that this technology is trickling down into the pleasure craft world. There are some pretty fancy units on the market, and the false sense of security they give the owners and operators of yachts is disturbing.

Once again, it all boils down to this: “The informed mariner is the successful mariner”.
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