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Boxship Accident at Port of New Orleans Was Caused by Extreme Winds

Napoleon Avenue Container Terminal - Image courtesy of Port NOLA
Heavy rain almost fully obscures this security camera image, but CMA CGM Bianca's drifting bow and her port anchor chain can just be made out in the upper right corner (NTSB)

Published Sep 17, 2021 4:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that severe, unexpected winds caused the boxship CMA CGM Bianca to break away from a pier at the Port of New Orleans in August of last year, causing significant damages to equipment at the Napoleon Avenue container terminal. The total damage was estimated at $15 million for the shoreside gantry cranes and $60,196 for the ship.

“The probable cause of the breakaway of CMA CGM Bianca from the Napoleon Avenue container terminal wharf, and the ensuing equipment damage, was the sudden onset of unforecasted severe winds likely originating from the outflow of a thunderstorm-generated downburst,” the NTSB determined in its report.

The boxship was loading cargo while moored at the terminal when a sudden, localized thunderstorm passed through the area. The vessel’s mooring lines parted in the high winds, and the ship moved away from the pier.

Containers that were being lifted by shoreside gantry cranes struck the ship, and one damaged container dropped in the water, spilling a cargo of plastic pellets. A crane operator suffered a minor injury while evacuating his control cab, but no other injuries were reported.

The crane operators and the ship’s crew reported extreme high winds that came on “in seconds." The powerful gusts were accompanied by heavy rain - heavy enough to completely obscure the view of the security cameras at the terminal.

Although the closest official weather station recorded winds peaking at 31 mph, a vessel located very close to the accident reported a wind gust of 73 mph.