Pilot training blamed for tanker incident

Jun 13 2014

The UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has published its findings into last year’s tanker collision with a container terminal in the River Thames.

At 0219 on 25th July 2013, the Gibraltar flag, 2003-built 23,998 dwt chemical/products tanker tanker ‘Apollo’ was rounding Tilburyness, River Thames, in a strong tidal flow when it left its intended track and made contact with the quayside at the Northfleet Hope Container Terminal.

At the time of the incident, she was inbound loaded with nearly 22,000 tonnes of gasoil for discharge at Vopak’s terminal at West Thurrock.

The vessel’s bridge team consisted of two Port of London Authority (PLA) pilots, the Master, who had returned to the bridge just before the accident, the officer of the watch and a helmsman.

One of the pilots was undergoing a practical examination and, although he had the conduct of the vessel, he was not authorised to pilot a vessel of ‘Apollo’s’ length and draught, MAIB said.

She was fitted with a controllable pitch propeller, but neither pilot was aware of this before the accident.

As ‘Apollo’ rounded Tilburyness the propeller pitch was briefly set to zero, after which the vessel veered off course and made contact with the quayside. As a result, both the vessel and the quayside sustained significant damage.

Subsequently, the vessel’s manager, Bremen-based Carl Buttner, has taken action to prevent a recurrence, MAIB said.

MAIB made a recommendation to the PLA, the UK Marine Pilots Association and the Port Marine Safety Code Steering Group to develop best practice guidelines for the conduct of practical pilotage examinations.

The key safety issues identified by MAIB were:

·         Tilburyness is an area with strong and complex tidal streams and there have been four accidents involving large vessels in this area since 2007.

·         The information regarding the vessel’s propulsion system was not readily available to the pilots, either through the port’s information data system, or the vessel’s pilot card.

·         The examination was not conducted in a commentary style, compromising the ability of the bridge team to communicate effectively.

·         The size of the vessel was inappropriate for the examination, as it was larger than the size for which the pilot was being examined.

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