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Precis File
SHIP NAME: Esso Brussels KEY: NUM. ENTRIES: 5
source USCG
type A
volume
material
dead 16
link http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-m/docs/ll0198.htm

On June 1, 1973, the U.S-flag container vessel SEA WITCH, fully loaded, was being piloted out of New York Harbor, having departed Howland Hook container terminal at about 2329 local time. After transiting the Kill Van Kull, the Master turned her to starboard and began to steady up to pass beneath the Verrazano Bridge. Although dark, the sky was clear with good visibility. In order to get lined up properly, and keep well clear of a passing tow, minor course changes were made. At 0036 on June 2, the SEA WITCH was abeam of the Stapleton Anchorage, an anchorage typically used by tankers and other vessels waiting for berths to become available. The ESSO BRUSSELS, loaded with crude oil, was anchored awaiting docking space at the Bayway refinery. Most of her crew were asleep. At this time the master of the SEA WITCH noted a continued swing of the vessel's head to starboard. He discovered that the 12 degree right rudder applied to the steering gear could not be removed. The master shifted steering units, and then shifted to non-follow-up control in an attempt to regain steering. Neither action had any effect. He ordered the engine full astern, let go the port anchor, and sounded the general alarm.

At 0042, the SEA WITCH struck the starboard side of the ESSO BRUSSELS, opening Nos. 7 and 8 starboard cargo tanks and starting the largest ship-board fire in New York Harbor since the TEXACO MASSACHUSETTS/ALVA CAPE collision in June of 1966.

Both vessels quickly became engulfed in fire and thick black smoke. Carried by the ebb tide the vessels, now locked together, drifted beneath the Verazzano Bridge until they grounded in Gravesend Bay.

The cause of this casualty was the dislocation of a 3/16" x 1" key from a keyway in the control linkage of the steering gear differential controller installed aboard the SEA WITCH. Investigators found that this key had moved forward from its slot and dropped into the jaws of a universal joint. Thus, motion initiated from the pilothouse steering stand could not be transmitted into the differential controller.

In this instance, a small, seemingly insignificant mechanical failure aboard a merchant vessel compounded itself into a catastrophe which resulted in the loss of one ship and severe damage to another, and the loss of 16 lives. Using hindsight, it is easy to say that better connecting linkage would have prevented this casualty. Furtherand#8212;and perhaps more importantlyand#8212;it could have been prevented by more attention to mechanical detail.


source CAHILL_C
type D
volume 31000BBLS
material C
dead 16
link

Esso Brussels was anchored, heading NNW into the current. Sea With was outbound at full ahead manuevering which gave he a speed thru the water of 13.5 knots and thanks to an ebb tide, speed over the ground of 15.5 knots. Weather was clear; visibility excellent. At about 0037 with the helm 12 degrees to starboard, the helmsman told the pilot that the ship was not answering the helm. The captain went to the stand exclaiming "that damn steering again". She was overtaking a barge on her starboard side and passed about 150 feet in front of the barge. After that the engine was stopped, but the ship continued swinging right. At 0041, the pilot went full astern

Sea Witch, whose headway had now been reduced to about 5.5 knots, struck the Esso Brussels on the starboard side just forward of midships. She penetrated about 40 feet into the hull of Esso Brussels rupturing three of her tanks and spilling about 31,000 barrels of light crude. Almost immediately the highly volatile light crude burst into flames, engulfing the area of the collision and then rapidly spreading aft.

Cahill says the angle was about 60 degrees and the impact between 7 and 8 cargo tanks.

The investigation revealed that the American flag, 1968 built, Sea Witch had had at least 12 steering gear failures in her five year life.


source OSIR
type L
volume 4000T
material C
dead
link

New York Harbor


source USCG
type L
volume
material
dead
link http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-m/moa/boards/seawitch.pdf


source CTX
type D
volume 5MML
material
dead 16
link

According to CAHILL_G, the spill volume was 31,000 barrels.

The Seawitch hit the anchored Brussels at nearly a 90 degree angle at 5.5 knots. The reported depth of penetration was 40 feet.

NTSB report and Cahill both make it clear that the Sea Witch's steering gear had a long history of problems, including at least 12 loss of steering, already in her five year life, one of which had led to a grounding. When the rudder failed to respond, the Captain's first words were that damn steering gear again The NTSB faulted the USCG for approving a steering gear that was not totally redundant. But the only truly totally redundant steering system, is the have two of them, something neither the USCG or NTSB mentioned. The NTSB report is NTSB-MAR-75-6SSCV_Sea Witch.

The public USCG summary's conclusion calling for more attention to detail is a useless bromide.