On 12 October, 2018, about 0141 local time, the towing vessel Kristin Alexis was transiting with the crane barge Mr Ervin upbound on the Lower Mississippi River near St. James, Louisiana, when the crane struck the deck of the Sunshine Bridge while passing under the west channel span.
There was no pollution or injuries to the six crew members onboard the Kristin Alexis.
The bridge was completely closed to vehicular traffic for 49 days while repairs were made, which resulted in significant traffic impacts.
Damage to the bridge was $6.7 million, while crane damage was estimated at $8,500.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the Mr Ervin crane barge striking the Sunshine Bridge was the inadequate voyage planning and watch turnover between the captain and pilot, resulting in the pilot transiting beneath the bridge’s west span instead of its channel span.
Contributing to the accident was the lack of company oversight.
Also contributing to the accident was the charted information for the bridge used by the pilot, which did not reflect the actual vertical clearance of the west span.
- Prior to getting under way, the captain could have used his stop work authority to stop the transit until he was comfortable with the vessel and tow’s configuration.
- The company’s voyage planning guidance was insufficient.
- The captain and pilot did not complete a thorough watch handover, which could have identified the immediate risks/hazards along the vessel’s route.
- The company was not adequately verifying that crews understood and implemented the safety management system on board the vessel.
- The pilot erroneously assumed that the tow had sufficient overhead clearance to transit the west span because the vessel’s electronic chart system did not reflect the actual minimum vertical clearance for that span of the Sunshine Bridge.
- Contrary to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) guidance, when there are multiple navigable spans for a bridge, NOAA navigational charts do not consistently list vertical clearances for each span.
As a result of its investigation, the NTSB makes the following safety recommendations:
-To Marquette Transportation Company:
- Develop a detailed voyage plan with specific information concerning/about all known risks, including calculated overhead clearance limitations for tows.
- Develop a detailed audit plan to verify that the bridge transit procedures and watch handovers are understood and effectively used by captains and pilots.
-To the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
- Review and update bridge data and charts to include vertical clearance information for all navigable bridge spans.
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