company’s decision to place an inadequately vetted pilot on board a towing
vessel on which he did not have previous experience, led to an accident that
killed two mariners, according to a National Transportation Safety Board Marine Accident
Brief issued Thursday.
Marine Accident Brief 19/13 details the NTSB’s
investigation of the March 12, 2018, capsizing and sinking of the towing vessel
Natalie Jean at mile 90.5 of the Lower Mississippi River, near New Orleans.
In its report the
NTSB says Creole Chief, Inc., of New Orleans, the owner/operator of the Natalie
Jean, failed to comply with several of its own requirements including
pre-employment hiring procedures that include verifying the captain’s training
and credentialing as well as ensuring the pilot was thoroughly familiarized
with the vessel prior to operating it unsupervised. The owner placed the pilot
on board the Natalie Jean even though he had no direct experience with the
pilot’s ability. While the pilot had years of towing vessel experience on the
Mississippi River, he had not worked for eight months. Neither the owner nor
the captain was able to assess the pilot’s ability to judge specific operational
situations given the limited underway time before the accident.
At the time of the
accident the Lower Mississippi River gauge at mile 102 measure 16.5 feet and
the current was estimated at 5 mph. Winds were from the North at 10-15 knots,
with gusts of 20-26 knots. The Natalie Jean was pushing an empty fuel tank
barge upriver when the towboat became caught on the port anchor chain of the
anchored bulk carrier Atlantic Fairy. The towboat capsized and quickly sank.
The barge broke free and collided with the Atlantic Fairy. The Natalie Jean’s
captain and deckhand died in the accident.
The NTSB also says
the pilot’s decision to transit upriver in the general anchorage, given his
unfamiliarity with the vessel and close proximity to anchored and underway
vessels in high-water conditions and strong winds, increased the navigational
challenges leading up to the accident. The report states the pilot’s lack of
vessel knowledge and experience, coupled with high water, strong beam winds and
a vessel that was only making 1 to 2 mph in a strong 5 mph current, while
pushing a barge upriver through a busy anchorage, placed him in a very
Brief 19/13 is available online at https://go.usa.gov/xmS53.