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Casualty briefs

New NTSB digest offers concise accounts of El Faro, other casualties
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its Safer Seas Digest from the 2017 calendar year detailing 41 marine casualties that occurred in U.S. waters or involved U.S.-flagged ships.

The document, released in November, includes findings from the El Faro sinking in the Caribbean; the Nathan E. Stewart grounding and oil spill near Bella Bella, British Columbia; and the collision involving the tugboat Specialist near the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York.

The report focuses on key takeaways from incident reports released in 2017. It’s intended to promote and sustain “a culture of safety” among mariners and company executives, according to the NTSB. The broader goal is always to prevent future accidents.

Although the report is 94 pages long, it is presented in a readable format with an emphasis on lessons learned. Casualties in the digest include photos, a summary of what happened and the probable cause.

The eight pages that focus on the Oct. 1, 2015, sinking of El Faro contain one of the clearest, most concise descriptions yet of the loss of the cargo ship. Using timelines, maps, diagrams and photos, the section details the chain of events that led to the sinking that killed 28 U.S. sailors and five Polish contractors. It also highlights key safety recommendations that emerged from the two-year investigation.

The report’s “Lessons Learned” section focuses on 11 safety issues including fatigue, cellphone distraction, anchoring in strong currents, safety management systems and VHF reception. As the report points out, these are issues that come up often.

“This year’s edition of Lessons Learned could arguably be titled Lessons Relearned, as many of the issues noted in 2017 accident reports were recurring topics,” the agency said. “Issues such as fatigue, poor bridge resource management and distraction are not new and deserve re-emphasis.”

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said the digest is intended to provide “essential and actionable information” to the marine industry. “With every investigation we conduct, the lessons learned can prevent such losses in the future — when marine stakeholders at all levels of the industry apply these lessons,” he said.

The report can be found at www.ntsb.gov by clicking on “Investigations” and then “Accident Reports.”

The bulk carrier JSW Salem awaits the rising tide after it ran aground off Virginia Beach, Va., on Jan. 10. A Coast Guard response boat later escorted the ship, loaded with 120,000 metric tons of coal, to a nearby anchorage.

U.S. Coast Guard photo

Bulker loaded with coal grounds off Virginia Beach
A loaded bulk carrier ran aground off Virginia Beach, Va., possibly due to strong winds that pushed the ship outside the channel.

The 958-foot JSW Salem, carrying 120,000 metric tons of coal, grounded near Cape Henry Buoy No. 4 two hours before sunrise on Jan. 10. The Panama-flagged ship remained stuck for about five hours until it floated free at about 1030 with the rising tide.

The Coast Guard is investigating the incident but as of mid-January had not determined the cause. With winds blowing at up to 40 knots, Coast Guard spokeswoman Lt. Amanda Faulkner said weather conditions might have played a role.

“The pilot (reported) that the ship was beset by the wind into the shoals,” Faulkner said.

Attempts to reach the Association of Maryland Pilots for additional details on the incident were not successful.

After refloating, the ship moved under Coast Guard escort to an anchorage near Buoy 2H at Thimble Shoal, located about a mile off Virginia Beach. On Jan. 13, the ship continued its voyage from Baltimore, Md., to Kandla, India.

None of the 26 people on board were injured and there were no signs of damage or pollution. The ship reportedly grounded in an area with a soft, silty bottom.

Grounded bulker blocks Lower Mississippi channel
The Coast Guard closed the Lower Mississippi River for nearly 12 hours after a loaded bulk carrier grounded at mile marker 3.5 and blocked part of the channel.

The 836-foot Anglo Alexandria was outbound from New Orleans when it became stuck at about 0830 on Jan. 4 near Pilottown, La., at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The U.K.-flagged ship came free about eight hours later with tugboat assistance.

The grounding and subsequent river closure followed several days of heavy fog on the Lower Mississippi that prevented ships from coming or going. The result was a backlog of more than 50 vessels when Anglo Alexandria went aground.

No injuries or pollution were reported. The Coast Guard has not disclosed a cause and declined to provide additional details about the incident, including whether the grounding occurred within the navigation channel.

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