Special Investigation Report - Post-Accident Testing for Alcohol and Other Drugs in the Marine Industry and the Ramming of the Portland-South Portland (Million Dollar) Bridge by the Liberian Tankship Julie N

Portland, Maine
September 27, 1996

NTSB Number: SIR-98-02
NTIS Number: PB98-917003
Adopted May 5, 1998
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Executive Summary

The 560-foot-long Liberian tankship Julie N, carrying a cargo of heating oil, collided with the south bascule pier of the Portland-South Portland (Million Dollar) Bridge in Portland, Maine, about 1105 on September 27, 1996. The vessel had passed between the piers of the new Portland-South Portland bridge (Casco Bay Bridge) and was en route to the Rolling Mills terminal about 1.2 miles beyond the Million Dollar Bridge. The vessel was under the direction of a State-licensed docking master (pilot). After the collision, the pilot stated that as the vessel approached the bridge, he had issued three orders for port rudder to swing the bow to the left and then intended to order the rudder to hard starboard and to increase the engine speed from slow to half ahead to stop the swing and align the vessel for passage through the drawspan. However, the pilot inadvertently ordered the rudder to hard port instead of hard starboard. He recognized his error within seconds and ordered the rudder to hard starboard; given the narrowness of the bridge span, however, the shifting of the rudder occurred too late to avoid the collision.

There were no injuries, but the collision resulted in a 33-foot-long hole in the vessel's hull beneath the waterline. About 4,000 barrels of oil spilled into the harbor. The vessel sustained about $660,000 in damage, and the cost for cleanup of the oil was approximately $43 million. Repairs to the Million Dollar Bridge were about $232,000.

After the accident, the pilot reported to a clinic for postaccident testing. However, he did not have his breath or blood tested for alcohol. The urine specimen collected for drug testing indicated that no drugs were present. The pilot stated that he was unaware that postaccident testing required a test of breath or blood for alcohol and that urine collection was solely for drug testing.

Over the course of 28 major accident investigations, the National Transportation Safety Board has observed confusion and a lack of understanding on the part of marine employers and employees regarding postaccident testing requirements and responsibilities. In many of these accidents, including that involving the Julie N, the Safety Board has been unable to definitively rule out alcohol or drug use as a causal factor because of serious deficiencies in the testing process.

Because of the continuing problems encountered in conducting postaccident testing for alcohol and drugs, this report contains additional sections devoted to the discussion and analysis of postaccident testing.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the collision with the Portland-South Portland (Million Dollar) Bridge was the pilot's inadvertent order port (left) rudder instead of starboard (right) rudder. Contributing to the accident was the narrow horizontal clearance of the bridge drawspan, which afforded little leeway for human error. Contributing to the severity of the damage to the vessel and to the amount of oil spilled was a corner of the bridge pier that was not adequately shielded by the timber fender system.

The safety issues discussed in this report include:

Postaccident testing for alcohol and other drugs, and Port safety.

As a result of its investigation, the Safety Board made recommendations addressing these issues to the U.S. Coast Guard, Maine Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, and American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Recommendations

As a result of its investigation of this accident, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following recommendations:

To the U.S. Coast Guard:

Evaluate the benefit of a permanent set of ranges for vessel pilots and masters to use for navigating through the Casco Bay Bridge and establish such ranges if justified. (M-98-69)

Ensure that operational guidance for vessels navigating Portland harbor developed by the Port Safety Forum or by the Captain of the Port is published in a source readily available to vessel masters and pilots, such as the U.S. Coast Pilot. (M-98-70)

Incorporate language into the postaccident testing regulations that clearly states alcohol testing is more time-sensitive and therefore should be conducted ahead of drug testing. (M-98-71)

Institute a task force that will evaluate deficiencies in past postaccident alcohol and drug testing performance and use "lessons learned" to implement a program that ensures testing is performed in a manner that will produce meaningful results. (M-98-72)

Implement a procedure for Coast Guard personnel to conduct breath testing of mariners who are involved in a serious marine incident, as defined by 46 CFR 4.03-2, when testing by the marine employer will not or can not take place within 2 hours of the accident. (M-98-73)

Establish a requirement in the postaccident testing regulations that the crew and pilot of a vessel involved in a serious marine incident will remain with the vessel, when it is safe to do so, for breath testing for alcohol, until permitted by the Coast Guard to leave the vessel. (M-98-74)

Establish a requirement in the postaccident testing regulations that foreign commercial vessels on the navigable waters of the United States, as well as U.S. oceangoing vessels, must have on board breath-testing devices capable of determining the presence of alcohol in a person's system and urine specimen collection and shipping kits. (M-98-75)

Establish a requirement in the postaccident testing regulations that foreign vessels on the navigable waters of the United States and oceangoing U.S. vessels have a postaccident testing plan that identifies crewmembers who will conduct the testing; sets forth the qualifications for crewmembers assigned to conduct the testing; establishes procedures for the care of specimens, including chain of custody; lists the records to be prepared; and provides identification and addresses for testing laboratories that can process urine specimens or testing firms that may assist or conduct postaccident testing for vessels in U.S. ports. (M-98-76)

Incorporate language into the postaccident testing regulations that clearly states that breath or blood specimens are for determining the presence of alcohol and that urine specimens are used to determine the presence of dangerous drugs. (M-98-77)

To provide uniformity, adopt the criteria for "serious marine incident" described at 46 CFR 4.03-2 as the criteria for initiating postaccident testing for commercial vessels in the regulations at 33 CFR 95 and in any future combined regulations. (M-98-78)

Establish a requirement that postaccident testing for drugs begin within 4 hours of a serious marine incident and postaccident testing for alcohol begin within 2 hours of a serious marine incident, with attempts to test for alcohol ceasing after 8 hours, and establish a requirement that the marine employer document any testing delays or failures. (M-98-79)

Expand the regulations at 33 CFR 95 to incorporate the provisions for postaccident testing currently found at 46 CFR 4.06 with a minimum of crossreferencing to other regulations, so that postaccident testing requirements are easy to read and comprehend and are found in one part of the regulations. (M-98-80)

Establish a provision in the postaccident testing regulations that prohibits mariners involved in an accident from consuming alcohol for 8 hours afterwards, or until breath or blood and urine specimens are collected, or until released by the Coast Guard. (M-98-81)

To the Maine Department of Transportation:

Nominate a representative familiar with bridge design or bridge maintenance to participate on the Portland Port Safety Forum. (M-98-82)

To the Federal Highway Administration:

Inform, in cooperation with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, State highway departments of the circumstances of this accident and recommend that the States evaluate the adequacy of fendering systems at bridge piers where the systems were not designed for the type and size of vessel currently using the waterway and may not be adequate to protect the bridge and take corrective action as necessary. (M-98-83)

To the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO):

Inform, in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration, State highway departments of the circumstances of this accident and recommend that the States evaluate the adequacy of fendering systems at bridge piers where the systems were not designed for the type and size of vessel currently using the waterway and may not be adequate to protect the bridge and take corrective action as necessary. (M-98-84)