The speed of a huge craft such as the Bright Field (68,000 metric tons plus about 60,000 metric tons of grain = 128,000 metric tons total) is a major contributor to its inability to stop as well as the damages it causes in a collision. The narrowness of the river and high level of activity (both in the river and on the river bank) in this area made speed a very definite contributor to the accident.
The kinetic energy of a vessel moving at a constant velocity is proportional to the square of its velocity. This makes the energy required to stop (or the energy from an impact) proportional to the square of the velocity. That is why velocity is such a critical variable in situations like this one.
One of the early accident reports placed the Bright Field speed at 8 to 10 mph. At those speeds, the Bright Field manuevers around fixed objects (bridges and bends in the river) but smaller craft must maneuver out of its path. If things do go wrong, incidents such as this one take place. We are certainly not the ones to say the craft was going too fast, but there is obviously a trade-off going on here between slow speeds (safety) and higher speeds (productivity and reduced time of transit). The proper balance between vessel speed and safety needs to be maintained.
One of our readers is very concerned about the speed issue and supplied us with several references and ideas relating to it. The reader makes an excellent case for the seriousness of the issue of speed in the collision. We would like to thank them for their informed, well documented contribution. The letters are reproduced below.
Note they frequently reference the Federal Code of Regulations, 33 CFR 165.810 (b)(2). The regulation deals with vessels operating in this exact area of the Mississippi River. We have created a 33 CFR 165.810 Page and posted the full regulation there.
Date: Mon, 22 Dec 1997 From: To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: BRIGHTFIELD, SPEED AS AN ISSUE DATE: Dec.22, 1997: Recently found your web site. We are amazed that among the issues related to the accident that your site makes no mention of speed. Speed has been discussed at length in the maritime professional and general media. (See WATERWAYS JOURNAL p.4 March 17, 1997, N.A.M.E. NEWSLETTER #62, p.23, New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE 2/13/97 article by Pam Louwagie ) and is the subject of a request for Congressional inquiry launched by Capt. Dean Bruch. It has been discused on area television and is a subject of regulation. 33 CFR 165.810 (b) (2) is entitled "Speed: high water precautions". and pertains directly to ship speed under exactly the circumstances under which the BRIGHTFIELD occurred. When confronted with this fact and questions concerning the Coast Guard's failure to enforce this regulation by reporters Cmdr. Bill Marhoff of the Coast Guard responded that the regulation had "historically been applied " to small towing vessels. The article by Jack R. Simpson in the N.A.M.E. (National Association of Maritime Educators) Newsletter # 62 very effectively debunks Cmdr. Marhoff's position by citing the actual language of the regulation and related legislative history of the Towboat Operator Licensing law. The Coast Guard's report on the incident was released Decenber 18, 1997 and neatly skirts the issue. The NTSB's full report will be out soon and will likely not skirt this issue but may pass largely unnoticed. Why not add Speed as an issue and reproduce some of the media articles on speed or at least list them? Speed is the only issue related to this accident that absolutely can eliminate another. Simply enforcing the existing law contained in 33 CFR 165.810(2) would greatly improve the probability that a dropped anchor would hold, reduce the amount of kinetic energy involved and thus the damages in any crash, and greatly improve the chances of survival for all concerned. Yet the Coast Guard refeuses to even acknowledge , much less enforce the existing law and speed seems to have passed from public consideration as an issue. Yet this is simply the result of spin control, there is no basis in fact or law to eliminate speed from consideration as an important causitative factor in this accident and the most important element for future control measures aimed at preventing another accident.
Date: Mon, 22 Dec 1997 From: To: email@example.com Subject: BRIGHTFIELD ALLISION W/ RIVERWLK "REPEAT OF BRIGHTFIELD /RIVERWALK ACCIDENT NARROWLY AVERTED" : Reads the headline in the N.A.M.E. newsletter no.63. Writing about a TV newscast from Channel 6, WDSU TV New Orleans, at 10:00PM Tuesday Feb. 11, 1997 Richard Block of N.A.M.E. describes the TV report of a Chinese flag bulk carrier experiencing an engine failure on that date in the same vicinity as the BRIGHTFIELD accident and the possible near tragic results for a Navy crew. On the date indicated the Chineese Bulker GAO-ZHOU-HAI lost power near the Cresent City Connection twin bridges while down bound. At that moment "an American war vessel the U.S.S. KIDD was on a Mardi Gras port visit and secured to a wharf in the city of New Orleans that lay in the path of the GAO-ZHOU- HAI when it reported losing power at 5:48 AM. That an undertmined number of naval personnel were on board the vessel at the time . It is unknown whether danger signals were sounded by the bulk carrier or wether the crew on the warship was ever warned of potential danger-or wether the situation required such precautions to be taken. It was reported that attempts to warn the warship by VHF radio were not successful ....". "It was reported that the rapid dispatch of and response by tugboats played a significant role in this situation and the vessel was successfully anchored off Chalmette. This article appeared with a call by N.A.M.E. to Senator John Breaux, Rep. Billy Tauzin, Sec. of the Navy John H.Dalton, James E. Hall, Chairman of the NTSB to investigate the apparent Coast Guard failure to enforce 33 CFR 165.810. We appreciate the coverage that your web site gives this incident that will be the subject of so many lessons in marine safety but find that so far the site reflects the official government positions and general media coverage. We are finding that the maritime professional media are much more concerned with the speed and external communications issues than the general media, and much more critical of apparent Coast Guard inaction including failure to enforce existing speed regulations . We hope that you will list speed in your issues section and provide a link to some of the maritime professional literature we have cited. Keep up the good work. Many people will be following this issue for years. Your web site is a very comprehensive and extensive secondary research tool. If you can provide more from the professional maritime media it could become the most comprehensive source.
Date: Mon, 29 Dec 1997 16:55:49 EST From: To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Re: BRIGHTFIELD ALLISION W/ RIVERWLK MORE ON SPEED ISSUE: RE: WATERWAYS JOURNAL Dec.22, 1997, page 1 & 9. The above referenced article describes the Coast Guard's final report . According to this article the Coast Guard appears to make self contradictory statements about the role of speed in the accident. First, according to the article ,the the Coast Guard states that the master and the state pilot "operated the ship at the proper speed and 'took reasonable actions under the circumstances". Yet on the same page the WATERWAYS JOURNAL reports that the Coast Guard maintains that ; "Had the ship's anchor's been let go -they were not - they would have had minimal impact on speed, adding that anchors could help under other scenarios". "Nor would a vessel traffic system or a conventional tug escort have been effective in adverting the accident." Common sense dictates that if the anchors would have proven ineffective under the circumstances but effective under other circumstances, those other circumstances would most likely include slower speed. If conventinal tug escort would not have proven effective under the circumstances but would be effective under other circumstances, it stands to reason that those other circumstances would include slower speed. The WATERWAYS JOURNAL article describing the Coast Guard report makes no mention of any effort by the Coast Guard to explain why they chose to ignore the presumptions of unsafe speed under the circumstances apparently dictated by application 33 CFR 165.810 (b) (2) and / or Rule 6 of the Inland Navigational Rules Act (33 U.S.C. 2006) or in the general maritime case law [such as Alamis V. Chevron Transp. Corp., 660 F.Supp.1123 (S.D. Miss.1987) or Bernert Towboat Co. v. USS CHANDLER (DDG996) , 6 F. Supp 1154 (D.C. Ore.1997] in exonorating the master and pilot on the speed issue. The WATERWAYS JOURNAL article makes no mention of any attempt by the Coast Guard to explain or answer the allegations contained in various print media that they failed or refused to enforce the speed provisions in 33 CFR 165.810(b)(2). Their explanation to the NEW ORLEANS TIMES PICAYUNE that the regulation applied only to tugs appears to be very effectively rebuted as a matter of law in the N.A.M.E. NEWS LETTER article entitled "Will New Orleans Burn While CG Group Fiddles" (NO.62, March 1997). We believe the speed issue will be handled quite differently when the full NTSB report comes out and in the resulting civil cases. Serious students of the incident and marine safety are urged to consider the role of speed in this incident . The maritime trade journals and even the TIMES PICYUNE contain a number of articles by acknowledged experts pointing out that speed is the one controlable element in this causation matrix that can and should be controlled ,and if controlled, has the real potential to both prevent future incidents and greatly mitigate damages should another one occur. We can not understand the Coast Guard's refusal to acknowledge their enforcement responsibility for 33 CFR 165.810 (b)(2) or their blanket exoneration of speed as a causation element, while virtually acknowledging that at slower speeds the anchor might have held and tugs might have been effective. The Coast Guard's report appears to address an agenda that is focused away from prevention. The lube oil problems may have been the specific and direct cause of engine failure but engines have failed many times before and since in the same area from a wide variety of causes. Reduced speed substancially reduces the danger by reducing the kenetic energy available to cause damages in all cases. This issue will not go away. One must wonder why the Coast Guard will not forthrightly address it? The question of how speed might be controlled or reduced generally in the area may be complex; or as simple as the Coast Guard actually acknowledging the existing regulation and announcing that vessels transiting the area at less than a certain speed will be considered in compliance and those moving faster assume the burden of proof that their speed was prudent within the requirement of the existing regulation.Such an action alone would probably eliminate 90% of the transiting of the area at full ahead or sea speed just to keep a schedule or make a timely pilot change. That alone would greatly reduce the probability of reoccurance. Rushing to eliminate speed as a causation element to avoid a politically charged enforcement duty will only encourage high speed transit through the area and eventually lead to another BRIGHTFIELD type incident, possibly with more tragic results. Transits of the area at half ahead or less even in high water, are possible for a large percentage of the shipping . This was proven by adherence to reduced speed requirements by a wide variety of shipping ,including bulk carriers in the BRIGHTFIELD'Ss size range, during the traffic controls that were imposed temporarily following the accident. If those who can slow down will, the probability of reoccurance will be greatly reduced. The probability that those who can will is close to nil with the Coast Guard in a state of denial on the speed issue and their responsibilities relative to it under existing regulation.