NTSB Issues Report On 2018 Andrew Cargill MacMillan Accident

The pilot’s over-reliance on physical buoys that happened to be temporarily submerged contributed to the incident on October 23, 2018, in which the tow of the mv. Andrew Cargill MacMillan breasted a dolphin and conveyors, resulting in more than $8 million of property damage to the shoreside facility and $74,000 to the vessel.

The was the conclusion of a National Transportation Safety Board report released December 19.

The incident began when the Andrew Cargill MacMillan—a 176-foot-long, 10,500-hp., triple-screw boat—was pushing 42 loaded barges southbound on the Lower Mississippi river near Tallulah, La.

While rounding a bend, the tow touched bottom, resulting in the head of the tow contacting the dolphins and conveyors. The conveyors were destroyed, and the dolphins and a lead barge were damaged. There was no release of any pollutants, and no one was injured.

The current was running at about 5.5 mph. with river stages at 35.7 feet and rising at the Vicksburg, Miss. gauge at Mile 435.4. Following American River Transportation Company’s policy, the tow size was reduced from 46 to 42 barges in these conditions. Two of the barges were loaded with grain and 40 with soybean oil.

The boat was equipped with an electronic charting system (ECS), but the pilot was navigating by visual references alone. At about 2:06 p.m. with a following current, the vessel and tow were at Mile 445 approaching the bend at Yazoo Cutoff, also called Browns Point. At a speed of about 9.5 mph. over ground, the pilot began to steer to port to navigate the bend. At 2:10, he steered the head of the tow toward a line of three red conical buoys (which were not shown on the ECS chart).

After a minute, he lost sight of the nearest red buoy. Sighting an object in the water and thinking it was the buoy, he steered toward it. Two minutes later, he saw the buoy pop up from where it had been submerged and realized the center of the tow was in the current’s trough and out of the river’s center. The pilot applied hard rudder to steer the tow toward the other red buoys and the left descending bank.

As the vessel and tow were pushed by the current and slid closer to the right descending bank, the pilot said he shifted his focus to keeping the stern, propellers and rudders off the bank. At about 2:18, the vessel began to lose speed due to “dead water” near the bank. Steering to port and full ahead on all three propellers, he tried to maneuver the vessel to keep off the right bank. The aftermost barge of the starboard side of the tow struck bottom, causing the head of the tow to veer toward the Farmers Grain Terminal, which had four steel-pile breasting dolphins with a conveyor and catwalk in the river. The pilot placed the steering rudders to amidships and put all three propellers in neutral, then placed them in full astern. He sounded a general alarm to alert the crew. He sounded five short blasts on the boat’s whistle to alert anyone at the terminal of approaching danger. There were no crew on the tow, and no one was observed at or near the conveyor.

At 2:26, the barges at the head of the tow made contact with the dolphins and grain conveyor. The third lead barge on the starboard side came to rest on the dolphins, and two of its voids were punctured and took on water. Once the vessel came to a stop, the pilot used the flanking rudders and astern propulsion to keep the boat off the bank.

The vessel departed the next morning with all but 3 of its barges.

The report suggested that had the pilot supplemented visual reference with ECS, radar or swing meter, he could have cross-checked the vessel’s position and rate of turn earlier, allowing him to make corrections.

In addition, the report said, the pilot was used to steering the Viking Queen, which had one key difference from the Andrew Cargill MacMillan: the latter was fitted with two high-lift, flap-type rudders and one traditional spade-type steering rudder, while the Viking Queen had three spade rudders.  The pilot used hard rudder, as he would have done with the Viking Queen, but on a vessel with high-lift rudders, the effective lift would have been to a maximum of 35 degrees of rudder angle.