NTSB: Speed of heavy-lift ship led to impact with moored destroyer

A heavy-lift ship carrying a massive dry dock was going too fast when it struck a warship under construction at Huntington Ingalls Industries in Pascagoula, Miss., federal investigators determined.

The 732-foot Hawk approached a deepwater berth alongside the shipyard at about 1000 on March 29, 2019. As the ship turned to port, the dry dock overhanging its starboard side hit an electrical testing barge, pushing it into the Navy destroyer Delbert D. Black. The dry dock also hit the destroyer’s bow.

The impact caused between $15 million and $20 million in property damage, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Several shipyard workers were injured, and about 15 gallons of non-PCB mineral oil entered the waterway.

According to the NTSB, the “speed at which the conning pilot was operating Hawk while attempting to turn and anchor in a shipyard basin” was the primary cause of the incident. The semi-submersible ship hit the barge while making 3.3 knots, the agency said in its report.

As Hawk approached the entrance to the Pascagoula River, the master warned the three pilots aboard that the ship was “slow in reducing speed,” the report said. He recommended reducing speed earlier, although the pilot who had taken the conn worried that reducing speed would affect steerage. Two tugboats made up to the stern also lacked power to “sufficiently reduce Hawk’s speed prior to making the turn,” the NTSB said, and the ship ended up hitting the destroyer.

Hawk arrived March 27 at an anchorage off Pascagoula following a 60-day voyage from Qingdao, China, where the dry dock was built for Huntington Ingalls. The dry dock extended 25 feet beyond Hawk’s port and starboard sides.

The ship got underway for Huntington Ingalls at about 0510 on March 29, and by 0800 three Pascagoula Bar Pilots were on board. The report identifies them as pilot 1, pilot 2 and pilot 3. The first two pilots took position on the sea bridge located on the bow, forward of the dry dock. Pilot 3 went to the main bridge aft of the cargo area. Pilot 1 had the conn.

The plan called for the ship to transit north in the Pascagoula Lower Sound Channel before turning northwest into the Upper Sound Channel leading to the shipyard. There, the report said, Hawk would turn to port and proceed to a deepwater basin known as the “Deep Hole.”

Hawk made 11 knots as it passed Petit Bois Island at 0910, the report said. By 0936, when the ship reached the “Y” turn into the upper channel, it was traveling at 8.6 knots. The tugboats Signet Victory, Signet Valiant and Signet Reliance met the ship as it made the turn.

The 3,000-hp Victory and Valiant got lines on Hawk’s stern and took position on the port and starboard sides, respectively. The dry dock’s overhang prevented the 5,000-hp Reliance from getting a line onto the port bow. The pilots requested a fourth tugboat to assist with the anchoring maneuver near the shipyard.

Hawk was making 7.5 knots as the ship came within a mile of the port-side turn toward the deepwater anchoring basin. The pilots recognized the speed and tried to check it by slowing the engine and requesting the tugs back at half power. The tugs had little effect, even when backing at full power.

The 510-foot Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Delbert D. Black was undergoing generator testing on the southeast side of Huntington Ingalls on the morning of the incident. The unnamed test barge was moored next to the warship, which was under construction and had yet to be delivered to the Navy, the report said.

At 1010, Hawk began its port turn into the shipyard facility. The vessel’s slow rate of turn concerned the pilots, and pilot 1 ordered the tugboats positioned aft to “pull to the east.” They also deployed Hawk’s powerful bow and stern thrusters to port. The ship’s engine was placed to half astern and then full astern, but these efforts weren’t enough to stop the starboard side of the dry dock from hitting the test barge at 1012.

The impact drove the barge into Delbert D. Black, opening a hole at the destroyer’s waterline and allowing seawater to rush into the hull. A steel beam on the barge also damaged the ship’s weather decks, boat davit and aft superstructure. Hawk’s stern continued to swing toward the destroyer’s bow after the initial impact.

“Concerned with the stern’s movement, pilot 3 took control of the aft tugboats and ordered Signet Valiant to pull the port stern at a 90-degree angle to the side of the ship at full-astern power,” the NTSB said. “However, before the tugboat came up to full speed, the line to Hawk parted.”

Hawk then began moving astern until the aft starboard corner of the dry dock struck the starboard bow of Delbert D. Black, causing indentations in the hull and deck plating along the deck edge,” the report continued.

The pilots later told investigators they were not made aware of a meeting held March 26 with the loadmaster, harbor master and others to discuss Hawk’s arrival with the unusual cargo. At a meeting in February, pilots had requested more powerful tugboats but were told such vessels were not available.

Huntington Ingalls did not respond to a request for comment on the findings, or to provide an update on Delbert D. Black’s status. The Pascagoula Bar Pilots Association did not respond to multiple inquiries about the NTSB report.

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