Electrical failure leads to loss of steering and $6 million in damage

An electrical outage caused a bulk carrier to lose steering and crash a barge near New Orleans last year, resulting in damage estimated at $6 million, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday. .

The bulk carrier Topic Jalma was transiting upstream on the lower Mississippi on July 12, 2021, when it lost direction and struck a stationary barge that was being used as office space. No injuries were reported.

During the trip, the rudder stuck to port 10 degrees. According to the report, when the pilot noticed the rudder not responding, he took immediate and effective action to ensure those on board the office barge were made aware of the situation and attempted to slow the vessel. as much as possible.

The barge sustained damage to its superstructure and hull. Electrical, plumbing and shore communication connections were severed and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems were damaged. The mooring system and all surrounding walkways and walkways leading to the barges were also damaged or destroyed.

(Plotted positions from the Jalma Topic taken from the vessel’s VDR illustrating the course of the vessel until it struck the corner of the office barge. Background source: Google Maps)

During the NTSB investigation, a technician discovered that a solid-state relay on the servo board of the operating steering control system had failed, causing the loss of steering. Additionally, the investigation revealed that the manufacturer of the steering control system, YDK Technologies, had created a warning sticker and issued an important notice to vessels equipped with PT500 autopilot systems in December 2014 which addressed the failure encountered on the Topic Jalma. However, the vessel’s operator said it was not made aware of YDK Technologies’ notice and warning sticker from 2014 until after contact.

The NTSB determined the probable cause of the contact of the Topic Jalma with the office barge, there was a loss of steering due to the failure of a solid-state electrical relay on the servo control board of the steering gear operating control system. The lack of specific procedures available to the bridge team to respond to a failure of the steering control system contributed to this.

“Failures in steering control systems can have damaging consequences,” the report said. “Companies should review and identify potential steering system failures and provide deck and engine crews with rapid response procedures. Deck and engine crews should perform scenario-based drills to maintain proficiency in implementing these procedures. »

Read the report: Marine Investigation Report 22/23