Lack Of Maintenance Program Cited In 2019 Collision

The lack of an effective maintenance program that might have detected a clutch system operating at only 40 percent of efficiency was responsible for the February 13, 2019, collision between the Miss Dixie and a tow being pushed by the D. & R. Boney, according to a recent finding of the National Transportation Safety Board.

On that day, the twin-screw, 2,400 hp. Miss Dixie was downbound at Mile 104 of the Lower Mississippi River with a crew of four and a tow of five barges when it collided with the upbound towing vessel D. & R. Boney, which was pushing nine barges. Several barges broke loose from their tows and were gathered up by the respective crews. No injuries or pollution were reported; the cost of damages was reported at $294,530.

After the Miss Dixie passed under the Huey Long Bridge at 10 mph. and was maneuvering around a sharp bend between Mile 105 and Mile 104, the current created an eddy that pushed the vessel’s bow to starboard and dropped speed to 6 mph. The Miss Dixie was lined up to meet two oncoming tows, one pushed by the Mary Parker and the next by the D. & R. Boney.

After passing the Mary Parker, the Miss Dixie’s captain noticed that the vessel was not responding to his steering and propulsion commands. A deckhand noticed smoke in the engineroom and reported a fire in the area of the port clutch. The captain rang the general alarm and requested that the D. & R. Boney pass “port to port”; the latter’s captain responded that the two vessels would collide if they attempted that maneuver and began to back at maximum astern. Meanwhile the Miss Dixie’s crew searched for the source of smoke but saw no fire; at no time did they report hearing any fire or smoke alarms.

At 7:17 p.m., the Miss Dixie’s captain broadcast that he had lost an engine; about 30 second later, his lead barge collided with the lead barge of the D. & R. Boney’s tow, breaking several wires and releasing several barges, which the crews regathered.

After the incident, the crew determined that the port clutch was the source of the fire. A service representative inspected the part and concluded that it was operating at 40 percent of efficiency and had excessive wear.

The Miss Dixie, built in 1961, has been acquired by its then-operator six months prior to the incident. The owner told investigators he was not aware of the maintenance and inspection requirements for the part. “Without records to show any previous maintenance or inspections of the clutches aboard the Miss Dixie, the condition of the units before, or at the time of, the accident is unknown,” the NTSB reported.

It concluded that the accident’s probable cause was “the lack of an effective maintenance program aboard the Miss Dixie, resulting in excessive and undetected wear of the port clutch, which compromised the vessel’s maneuverability.”

The Miss Dixie was involved with two other casualties in the weeks following the collision, including a crankcase explosion that caused an engineroom fire. It was towed to shore, removed from active service on March 3, 2019, and was later scrapped.