Poor bridge resource management caused wharf strike by LPG tanker in Puget Sound, NTSB report finds

A photo of Levant taken shortly after the December 15, 2019, berth strike at Puget Sound's Petrogas Ferndale Wharf (Photo: NTSB)

The National Transportation Safety Boa​rd (NTSB) has said that a ship carrying liquefied petroleum gas struck a Washington State wharf in 2019 because the pilot approached with excessive speed and at too steep an angle, resulting from poor bridge resource management by the Puget Sound pilot and the ship’s bridge team.

The partially loaded LPG tanker Levant struck the Petrogas Ferndale Wharf in Puget Sound, near Ferndale, Washington, on December 15, 2019, causing more than US$8 million in damage. The wharf’s south mooring dolphin, and the catwalk connecting it to the wharf, were destroyed and Levant‘s forward ballast tank was penetrated and flooded.

There were no injuries or environmental damage.

Levant, owned by Avance Gas and operated by Exmar Shipmanagement, successfully docked at the wharf several days earlier. The master, concerned about maintaining a safe under-keel clearance due to a falling tide, decided to stop loading the cargo of propane and butane and take the ship to deeper water for the night.

For the shift to the anchorage, 1.1 kilometres away, a pilot was brought on board. The pilot then stayed for the next day’s early morning approach back to the wharf when tidal conditions improved.

Investigators found a “condition of complacency” likely existed on the bridge because of the short distance back to the wharf. The master-pilot exchange of information was not as detailed as during the earlier briefing before leaving the wharf.

The pilot and the master were likely distracted by a two-minute, non-pertinent conversation they had about three minutes before contact.

In Marine Accident Brief 21/02, the NTSB said the vigilance of a pilot and bridge team should be increased, not decreased, with a ship’s proximity to dangers and obstructions. Regardless of the distance or duration of a transit, the bridge resource management fundamentals of planning, communication, use of all available resources and information, monitoring and management of distractions are essential to operations with a pilot on board.

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