On July 12, 2021, about 0323 local time, the bulk carrier Jalma Topic was transiting upriver on the Lower Mississippi River near New Orleans, Louisiana (mile 93.5), when it lost steering and struck a barge with an office accommodation structure on the bank. None of the 3 persons on the office barge or 20 persons (19 crew and a pilot) on the Jalma Topic were injured. The office barge and moorings sustained damages estimated at $6 million. The bow of the Jalma Topic sustained an estimated $215,000 in damages. No pollution or injuries were reported.
We determined that the probable cause of the contact of the Jalma Topic with the office barge was a loss of steering due to the failure of an electrical solid-state relay on the servo control board of the operating control system to the steering gear. Contributing was the lack of specific procedures available to the bridge team to respond to a failure of the steering control system.
Vessel-specific Procedures for Steering Casualties While Maneuvering
Failures in steering control systems can result in damaging consequences. In channels or during maneuvering, where immediate hazards (grounding, traffic, objects) are in proximity and therefore response time is critical to avoiding a casualty, steering system failure contingencies require immediate crew response. Companies should review and identify potential steering system failures and make quick response procedures readily available to bridge and engine teams. Bridge and engine teams should conduct scenario-based drills to maintain proficiency in implementing these procedures.