Bright Field Accident
Speed Issue

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 

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
  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 

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

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.  

Return to Bright Field Riverwalk Accident Page