NTSB Issues Report For 2017 Mckinney Crane Barge Incident

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced earlier this month the conclusion of the agency’s investigation into a June 7, 2017, incident involving the breakaway of a moored crane barge in the Harvey Canal in Harvey, La., near New Orleans.

The evening of June 7, 2017, McKinney Salvage & Heavy Lift’s derrick barge Troy, which the NTSB report referred to as the crane barge Troy McKinney, was moored in the Harvey Canal, located on the west bank of the Mississippi River in New Orleans. Shortly after 8 p.m., the derrick barge, which was unmanned at the time, “broke free from its mooring and struck overhead power lines crossing the Harvey Canal,” according to the NTSB report.

The breakaway did not cause any pollution or injuries, nor did it cause notable damage to the crane. Damage to the Entergy New Orleans-owned power lines, though, totaled $440,000.

NTSB attributed the cause of the breakaway and power line impact to the Troy’s “insufficient mooring arrangement, which did not prevent the barge from excessive movement and breaking away.”

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The Troy McKinney had been moored at a Chet Morrison Contractors dock on the Harvey Canal since May 17, 2017. The derrick barge was scheduled to be pressure-washed, blasted and repainted, according to the report. When the crane barge arrived at the dock, crew members aboard the mv. Tuscaloosa, one of McKinney’s towboats, secured the barge with two mooring lines to another boat and three to the shore. Four days later, on May 21, the other barge was removed, leaving the Troy McKinney with the three mooring lines ashore.

Then, on June 1, the boom of the barge’s crane was raised in order for photos to be taken and for that portion of the crane to be painted. In the raised position, the boom reaches about 136 feet above the water, according to the NTSB report. On that same day, McKinney Salvage & Heavy Lift’s president, Steve McKinney, who was not named in the report, was on site and added a fourth mooring line to the barge.

According to NTSB’s report, there was disagreement between the shipyard and the company as to who was responsible for securing the barge. The shipyard’s project manager indicated the vessel owner was responsible for mooring the barge, while McKinney’s president indicated the shipyard was responsible. Emails regarding the project did not mention mooring responsibilities, and McKinney’s operation and safety manual states vessel personnel are ultimately responsible for “ensuring that vessels and barges” are sufficiently moored, according to NTSB.

According to automatic identification system (AIS) data as well as video from the vicinity, the mv. Gail Cecilia with the tank barge Gonsoulin 127 in tow passed the Troy McKinney at about 8:05 p.m. June 7, with a speed of about 4.8 knots. Video from the scene captures the Troy McKinney beginning to break away from the dock moments later, with the barge’s stern to the north drifting away from the dock, followed by the bow a minute and a half later. Flashes can be seen in the video about 16 minutes later.

The crane barge had drifted, with the crane boom extended to around 136 feet in the air, about a half mile south of the Chet Morrison Contractors’ facility and into the Entergy power cables, which have a vertical clearance of 124 feet.

NTSB did not find the Gail Cecilia’s speed and wake to be a causal factor for the breakaway. There was no speed restriction in place on the Harvey Canal at the time of the incident, and the Gail Cecilia was traversing the Harvey Canal at about the same speed as when the mv. Tuscaloosa arrived with the crane barge on May 17, according to the report.

The report does mention wind speeds, which were out of the north at near 20 mph. at the Harvey Canal at the time. In the video from the incident, whitecaps can be seen on the canal.

Still, “neither the prevailing wind conditions nor the speed and wake of the Gail Cecilia tow appeared to be extraordinary circumstances that would have caused a properly moored vessel to break free from its mooring,” the report says.

The report goes on to quote from Charles F. Chapman’s book Piloting, Seamanship, and Small Boat Handling, first published in 1917, and R.S. Crenshaw’s Naval Shiphandling, first published in 1955, with a focus on the use of spring lines that prevent a vessel from moving forward and aft. The mooring lines were all nearly perpendicular to the barge, according to the report, whereas a proper spring line runs more parallel to prevent lateral movement.

“The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of crane barge Troy McKinney striking and damaging overhead power lines was its insufficient mooring arrangement, which did not prevent the barge from excessive movement and breaking away,” the report concludes.

McKinney Salvage & Heavy Lift’s fleet includes four derrick barges, three crane barges and six towboats. The company also operates a fleet at Mile 228 on the Lower Mississippi River near Baton Rouge, La., with room for 172 regulation barges.