NTSB Releases Report On 2019 Collision Between Bulk Cargo Ship And Towboat

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently released its marine accident brief detailing the investigation into the June 8, 2019, collision between the bulk cargo ship Century Queen and the towboat Kaytlin Marie on the Lower Mississippi River.

The incident occurred about 12:15 p.m. when the upbound Century Queen and the downbound Kaytlin Marie were attempting to pass one another at Mile 126 near Hahnville, La.

The Century Queen carried a crew of 21, while the Kaytlin Marie had a crew of seven. Three of the mv. Kaytlin Marie’s crew members were injured in the collision, which also caused the towboat to release close to 9,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the river. The collision tore open the bulbous bow of the Century Queen, causing an estimated $384,000 in damages, while the Kaytlin Marie, which was struck amidships, suffered just under $1 million in damages.

Following its investigation into the incident, NTSB concluded a failure to properly communicate passing arrangements led to the collision.

Collision report

Prior to meeting the Kaytlin Marie, the Century Queen met the downbound mv. Repentance, which was pushing a single barge. The Century Queen had moved toward the right descending bank, according to NTSB, “to avoid the swift current.” As the Repentance drew near, the crew member at the helm of the towboat contacted the Century Queen to coordinate passing arrangements. “The Inland Rules give the downbound vessel on the Western Rivers the right-of-way in head-on situations,” the NTSB report said. “The rules also require the downbound vessel to ‘propose the manner of passage’ and ‘make the appropriate maneuvering signals.’”

According to the report, the Repentance was favoring the left descending bank, so the two vessels agreed on a two-whistle, or starboard-to-starboard, passing. The two vessels passed each other at about 12:13.

NTSB noted that the Kaytlin Marie was only about a half mile behind the Repentance and also favoring the left descending bank. “However, the pilot chose to maneuver to the right descending bank while rounding the point,” the report said. “The towboat started toward the point following the radio conversation between the Repentance and the Century Queen. Per the rules, the Kaytlin Marie also had the right-of-way as the downbound vessel but, unlike the Repentance, did not contact the Century Queen to propose a manner of passing.”

The Kaytlin Marie pilot told NTSB that, in his experience, upbound ships typically kept to the middle of the channel in that area. The pilot also said that light boats, as the Kaytlin Marie was, do not normally make passing arrangements. With that in mind, the Kaytlin Marie’s pilot decided to attempt a one-whistle, or port-to-port, passing.

In contrast, NTSB found that the pilot aboard the Century Queen assumed the Kaytlin Marie would pass on a two-whistle, or to starboard, just like the Repentance. By the time it became apparent the Kaytlin Marie was headed to the right descending bank to pass to port, it was too late for the Century Queen to maneuver out of the way.

With the Kaytlin Marie crossing directly in front of the Century Queen, the pilot aboard the cargo ship radioed the towboat at just after 12:14 p.m. The exchange over VHF radio is included in the NTSB report:

Century Queen: “Seventeen, Kaytlin Marie.”

Kaytlin Marie: “Marie.”

Century Queen: “Hey, you see me right here? Huh, cap?” (The pilot follows with a midship helm command.)

Kaytlin Marie: “Whatcha doing?”

Century Queen: “I guess I’ma see you on the two, right?”

Century Queen: “Kaytlin Marie, I’ll see you on the two?”

Century Queen: [To helmsman] Port twenty.

Century Queen: [To bridge team] “Whistle, whistle.”

Century Queen: [To helmsman] Midship.

Century Queen: [To mate] Stop engines.

Century Queen: Hard starboard.

Century Queen: (Sound of collision.)

The entire exchange spans 40 seconds. The Century Queen’s bow struck the Kaytlin Marie amidships, puncturing two of the towboat’s port fuel tanks, according to NTSB. In the collision, a cleat on the port side of the Kaytlin Marie caught on the punctured bulbous bow of the Century Queen, which NTSB concluded “prevented the towboat from capsizing, as the Kaytlin Marie was pushed sideways up-current until both vessels came to a stop.” Fuel from the towboat and river water filled the void through the tear in the Century Queen’s bow.

After the incident, the pilot aboard the Kaytlin Marie said he did not call the Century Queen “because it appeared to him that the ship was maintaining the center of the channel and that light boats did not normally call to make passing arrangements.”

With regard to the New Orleans-Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association (NOBRA) pilot aboard the Century Queen, NTSB concluded, “The fact that the Kaytlin Marie was fine-to-port and presenting a port bow aspect at 1213, when the Century Queen and Repentance passed each other should have raised concern. Yet, the pilot did not contact the Kaytlin Marie, or indicate any doubt, as required by the Rules, for another 85 seconds to verify what, in his mind, would be a starboard-to-starboard passing. He told investigators it was not normal practice to call light boats.”

In short, NTSB found that “assumptions by both vessels as to the intent of the other created a dangerous situation.”

NTSB ended the report by reiterating guidelines for vessels making passing arrangements:

“When meeting or overtaking a vessel on the Western Rivers, especially within a bend where high-water conditions can increase the risk of collision, it is critical to establish early communications rather than make assumptions about the intentions of approaching vessels. Rules of the Road must supersede local practices or habits, such as light boats and deep-draft vessels typically not contacting each other.”