Towing Accident: Pilot Had Incomplete Understanding of the Current
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a Marine Accident Brief about the March 10, 2019 accident involving the towing vessel Rivers Wilson, which was pushing six loaded barges, when it contacted the Norfolk Southern railway bridge near Jackson, Alabama.
The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the contact was the pilot’s decision to navigate through a bridge that was poorly aligned with the channel with an unfamiliar towing vessel in high water and strong current.
The pilot had the option to leave barges below in the Jackson fleeting area and make several passes through the bridge while pushing fewer barges, but he believed that the Rivers Wilson had adequate speed over ground at his planned abort point to successfully maneuver the vessel through the bridge. He was not able to accurately anticipate the effect of the high water conditions and the difficulties presented by the relatively new submerged dikes on the direction/strength of the current.
The NTSB states that his incomplete understanding of the current, in combination with the misalignment of the bridge with the thalweg and the Rivers Wilson’s lower horsepower in comparison to the vessel on which he usually worked, resulted in his belief that the tow had enough speed to overcome the effect of the current.
As a result of the accident, a bridge support was shifted out of position, and the tracks above deflected. Rail traffic was suspended for 27 hours until temporary repairs were made. One crewmember sustained a minor knee injury in the immediate response. No pollution was reported.
The report is available here.