Thruster failure and misunderstanding of a pilot’s command
may have caused a chemical tanker to strike a moored barge
while turning around in the Houston Ship Channel.
About 10,500 gallons of fuel oil spilled.
The accident occurred at about 2100 on Sept. 25, 2009, at Brady’s Landing
as the 458-foot Chemical Supplier attempted to turn near the Interstate 610 Sidney Sherman Bridge.
The tanker’s port stern quarter struck the barge Buffalo 251 above the barge’s waterline.
Chemical Supplier’s No. 3 fuel tank was punctured 5 feet above the waterline.
The 195-foot barge had a 2-foot-by-4-foot gash.
Heavy No. 6 fuel oil spilled into the waterway from the tanker.
Mechanical failure and human error may have contributed to the accident,
said Steve Huttman, director of marine operations for Galveston-based
G+H Towing, whose tugboat assisted the tanker at the time.
“We only had one tug because the ship has a bow thruster,” Huttman said.
“But there was a bow thruster failure while the ship was turning.
Also, we were told that the pilot had called for ‘slow ahead’ and instead got ‘slow astern.’”
Three Buffalo Marine Service barges were moored light with Buffalo 251 on the outside,
said Tom Marian, general counsel for Houston-based Buffalo Marine.
“The 251 was slammed into the middle barge by the stern of the tanker,” Marian said.
“We estimate the damage to the barges to be about $120,000.
We always moor light barges on the outside to protect the inside barges, and it worked as planned.”
There is disagreement as to whether such ships typically turn around in that area.
Marian said there is a turning basin just north of where the accident occurred.
A three-mile portion of the Houston Ship Channel was closed from 2200 on Sept. 25 to 1245 on Sept. 28.
“This was not a typical maneuver and there was a pilot onboard and a tug assisting,” Marian said.
“Our company was severely impacted by the accident” because of the resulting channel closure.
Huttman said that in his opinion the turn was not an unusual maneuver for the area,
but was “exacerbated by the number of barges moored there.”
The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed that the turn was possible.
“This was a typical maneuver for the area,
and theoretically, yes, there was enough room to complete the maneuver,”
said Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Richard Brahm.