About 0230 local time on 26 October 2017, the towing vessel Cooperative Venture, with a crew of 10, was pushing 12 barges downbound on the Mississippi River near St. Paul, Minnesota. As the vessel approached the St. Paul Union Pacific Rail Bridge at mile 835.7, the lead barge on the port side struck a fixed pier of the swing bridge. There were no reported injuries or pollution. Damages to the bridge and barge were estimated at $800,000 and $153,000, respectively.
According to data from the vessel’s ECS, the pilot of the Cooperative Venture had been traveling in the center of the channel as he approached the St. Paul Union Pacific Rail Bridge until 0223, at approximately mile 836.3, where he then began maneuvering to the right descending bank.
The reason the pilot deviated from the center of the channel is unknown, but it placed the stern of the Cooperative Venture into the stronger following current in the bend along the right descending bank, thereby reducing the pilot’s ability to correct the heading and properly align the tow with the channel for safe passage through the bridge span.
For the accident voyage, the company assigned a pilot who had navigated through the St. Paul Union Pacific Rail Bridge only once as a pilot prior to the accident, NTSB found. Although the pilot had worked on towboats for many years, he had limited experience operating in this position and had only a week of formal maritime training. Furthermore, the pilot sought the advice of the White Rock captain just before approaching the bridge, demonstrating his lack of certainty for maneuvering the tow through the span.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the allision of the towing vessel Cooperative Venture with the St. Paul Union Pacific Rail Bridge was the operating company’s assignment of an inexperienced pilot who incorrectly positioned the tow prior to maneuvering through a turn with a following current when approaching the bridge span.
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