The Delta Mariner cargo-ship bridge crew relied on a contract pilot’s direction and didn’t use all the written and electronic navigation charts available before the ship collided with the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge near Aurora, Ky., the National Transportation Safety Board says.
The agency’s investigation of the January 2012 incident found fault with Foss Maritime Co., the Seattle-based owner of the ship, and its crew; the U.S. Coast Guard; and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC), which maintains the bridge that carries U.S. 68/state Route 80 over the Tennessee River.
Among the findings:
• Alcohol, illegal drugs, the ship’s mechanical and propulsion systems, and distractions from cell phones or other electronic devices were not at fault.
• The contract pilot, a licensed master of towing vessels who was not required to be aboard, focused exclusively on bridge navigation lights on a span the ship could not clear. The ship’s bridge crew relied on his direction, even when he was uncertain about the course. They also failed to use electronic charts and radar as they approached the bridge.
• The contract pilot’s expertise, duties and responsibilities were not defined adequately.
• Foss didn’t have effective oversight of the ship’s safety operations, and the crew didn’t effectively implement the onboard safety management system.
• Most of the navigation lights on the bridge, including those marking the main navigation span, were not working and had not been for a year or more. KYTC failed to maintain the lighting and resolve the recurring lighting problems. Further, KYTC did not have specific inspection procedures.
• The Coast Guard failed to identify the recurring problems with the bridge lighting system. It also failed to check that the problems had been repaired.
Meanwhile, the first phase of the replacement for the Eggner's Ferry Bridge and a nearby bridge over Lake Barkley is under way.
Jim Smith Construction LLC has the $24-million contract to build a bridge over a lagoon on Kentucky Lake that will be an approach to the main bridge. The job also includes building earthen causeways on both sides of the lake.
The new bridge is scheduled for completion in 420 days. After that, work will start on the pair of four-lane bridges that will replace the two-lane structures that were built in 1932. Each new bridge will cost $165 million.
The Eggner's Ferry Bridge was closed for four months after the Delta Mariner collision, which ripped out a 322-ft span. Kentucky has sued Foss Maritime to recover the $7-million cost to repair the bridge.