Pilot’s Failure To Properly Scale ECS Faulted

In a recent report, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the pilot of the mv. Eric Haney failed to identify charted erosion-control dikes, resulting in the sinking of the vessel in the Mississippi River.

The accident happened on July 8, 2017. The Eric Haney, owned by Tennessee Valley Towing, was pushing 15 empty barges upriver at Mile 13.4 on the Upper Mississippi River, just north of Cairo, Ill. The Eric Haney’s draft was about 9.5 feet, while the empty barges were drawing about 1.5 feet, NTSB reported.

According to the report, the Eric Haney and the downbound passenger vessel Queen of the Mississippi were making passing arrangements; the vessels were expected to meet at the top of the bend near the Grand Lake Lower Light at Mile 14.1. Although the Queen of the Mississippi’s operator suggested a starboard-to-starboard pass, the Eric Haney pilot wanted a port-to-port pass, and he continued up the left descending bank.

The Eric Haney was equipped with an electronic chart system (ECS) from Rose Point, which features a graphical display of the waterway, including aids to navigation, hazards and other vessels in the area, along with voyage planning tools and a customizable instrument panel. The display could be zoomed in or out, with view settings ranging from 250 yards to over 5,000 miles, to show different levels of detail, the NTSB report said. The Eric Haney pilot had the ECS set at a 3-mile scale.

In that reach bend, there are five partially submerged erosion-control dikes constructed of rock and stone. The purpose of the dikes is to reduce strong currents around the bend and prevent erosion of the riverbank. The pilot reported in a post-accident interview that he didn’t see the dikes on the ECS display.

As the tow proceeded upriver at about 6 mph., “the pilot felt the boat strike something and stop abruptly,” the NTSB report said. “He stopped the engines and then put them in reverse, but the vessel would not move. The captain came to the wheelhouse and stated that he thought the vessel was on a dike. When the captain zoomed in the view on the ECS display, the dikes appeared larger on the screen.”

The captain and pilot ensured that all crewmembers were awake and accounted for, and determined that the towboat was taking on water in the forward hold. They made a distress call to the Coast Guard and contacted nearby vessels, while crewmembers started pumps to remove the water. The pumps couldn’t keep up, though, and all crewmembers boarded one of the barges in the tow.

A few minutes later, the current freed the Eric Haney, which began drifting downriver. After about 1-1/2 hours, another towboat came alongside the drifting tow. The crewmembers climbed aboard the assisting towboat, which then pushed the sinking Eric Haney into the bank, where it sank to the pilothouse. The barges broke free and were later recovered.

The damage to the Eric Haney was estimated at $4.3 million.

The NTSB said all crewmembers submitted to drug and alcohol tests and the results were negative.

The pilot later told investigators that he was using the ECS on a 3-mile scale to better track other vessels and allow himself time to react to what he saw on the screen. He said he didn’t see the dikes on the screen. Because the accident happened at night and the dikes were unmarked, they wouldn’t have been visible from the wheelhouse, nor would they have been seen on radar, the report said. However, the report stated, “investigators viewed a display of the accident area at different levels of detail using a shoreside version of Rose Point ECS. At the 6-mile scale the dikes were removed from the display, but at the 3-mile scale they were visible on the display.”

The NTSB found that “the probable cause of the grounding and subsequent sinking of the Eric Haney was the pilot’s failure to identify a charted navigation hazard (erosion-control dike) during towing operations.”

The report recommended that “Mariners using electronic chart systems (ECS) should be aware that aids to navigation, hazards and other map features may not be represented on the displays at certain range scales. Mariners should use appropriate range scales for their routes on ECS displays to identify potential hazards while navigating.”