NTSB Cites Steering Error, Pilot's Fatigue in Tanker Collision

The January 2010 collision of the tanker Eagle Otome near Port Arthur, Texas, occurred when the double-hulled tanker lost power and drifted into barges being pushed by a towboat, causing a leak of about 462,000 gallons of crude oil.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded Sept. 27 that a steering error aboard the oil tanker Eagle Otome caused it to collide with barges in the Sabine-Neches Canal near Port Arthur, Texas, on Jan. 23, 2010. The collision left a 15-foot gash in the side of the double-hulled tanker, which then leaked about 462,000 gallons of crude into the water. The tanker was en route to deliver crude to a ExxonMobil refinery in Beaumont and was operated by AET Tanker Holdings Sdn Bhd.

The board said fatigue by one pilot and inefficient management of the tanker's movements by both of them were contributing factors.

This first pilot had operational control of the tanker at the time of the collision, and he failed to correct the sheering motions that began as a result of the late initiation of a turn at a mild bend in the waterway, according to the report. The board found that this first pilot's fatigue was "caused by his untreated obstructive sleep apnea and his work schedule, which did not permit adequate sleep>" He was distracted from conducting a radio call, which the second pilot should have conducted in accordance with guidelines, they found.

The report includes recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard, starting with a recommendation that it conduct a ports and waterways safety assessment for the Sabine-Neches Waterway and develop risk mitigation strategies if the risk is deemed unacceptable. The board also asked the Coast Guard to create a database of publicly available pilot incidents and accidents and make it available to all pilot oversight organizations.

The waterway is a busy route leading to some of the largest refineries in the United States. A 13-mile stretch of the canal was closed during the response and cleanup that followed the collision.

Although no injuries were reported among personnel working on the ships, more than 1,400 local residents filed claims as a result of the spill. Port Arthur residents living within 28 blocks of the spill site initially were evacuated because of an overwhelming odor of hydrogen sulfide fumes from the high-sulfur crude oil that was spilled.

A synopsis of the report is posted at www.ntsb.gov.

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