A formal hearing by the US Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board is throwing up several new facts about the tanker-tugboat accident that occurred in the Sabine-Neches Waterway this January. By the second day of the hearing, maritime lawyers had learned that the tanker pilot did not inform the tugboat operator that he was on a collision course with the tugboat.
According to testimony by the tanker’s first pilot Capt. Charles Bancroft, he was having difficulty steering the tanker in the waterway, due to poor visibility and strong winds. He tried to regain control of the vessel, but was unable to stay on course. According to Capt. Bancroft, he tried to speed up and threw the anchor down, but was unable to stay on course. However, he failed to inform the tugboat operator that the tanker had veered off course and into the west side of the channel, the lane which the tug boat was using.
Tugboat captain Lex Wimberley also testified at the hearing. According to him, when he saw Capt. Bancroft throw the anchor down, he radioed the tanker, but got no reply.
The January 23rd collision between the tugboat and tanker led to a massive spillage of 462,000 gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It was the largest oil spill off the Texas coast in more than 15 years. It disrupted economic activity for several days as the channel was blocked off.
The hearings into the tugboat-tanker accident will go on for about 10 days. We may then expect a report by the National Transportation Safety Board into the causes of the accident.