Good morning. Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Debbie Hersman, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Joining me are my fellow Board members: Vice Chairman Chris Hart, Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind and Member Earl Weener.
Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider the October 29, 2011, accident in which the tank ship Elka Apollon collided with the container ship MSC Nederland in the Houston Ship Channel. Fortunately, there were no injuries, but the damages totaled an estimated $2.8 million.
As you will hear from our investigators, the Houston Ship Channel is one of our nation's busiest and most challenging waterways. The Coast Guard reports that last year average daily traffic along the Houston Ship Channel included scores of ships and several hundred tow operations, in addition to dozens of ships in port. The traffic ranges from small commercial vessels to large deep-draft ships, such as the 799-foot Elka Apollon.
The year before last, Member Weener and I had the opportunity to see firsthand the wide variety of operations on the Houston Ship Channel. This gave me great appreciation for the skills, knowledge and experience required to conn a vessel on narrow waterways, such as the Houston Ship Channel.
Yes, the ships and the stakes on so many of our waterways are large; and, as we'll hear this morning, the margin for error is small.
Maritime traffic is expected to grow in both volume and complexity. This growth presents a number of safety challenges and calls on all of us to take a close look at what happened in the Houston Ship Channel last year. We need to identify what can be done to prevent future accidents and improve the safety of our increasingly busy waterways.
Dr. Mayer, will you please introduce the staff.