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Board Meeting: Collision in Houston Ship Channel - Opening Statement
Christopher A. Hart
NTSB Conference Center, Washington, DC

​Good morning and welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Christopher Hart, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr, Member Robert Sumwalt and Member Earl Weener.

Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider the report on the March 22, 2014 accident in which the 607-foot-long bulk carrier Summer Wind collided with the 670-foot-long Miss Susan tow, a 70-foot-long towing vessel and two 300-foot-long tank barges loaded with fuel oil, in the Houston Ship Channel, lower Galveston Bay, Texas.

The collision breached the hull of the forward tank barge in the Miss Susan tow, and about 168,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil spilled into the waterway. Two crewmembers on board the Miss Susan sustained minor injuries from inhaling fuel vapor. The total estimated damage was nearly $1,378,000 (excluding oil response and recovery efforts).

Today we will hear about myriad problems that by themselves would not have caused this accident, but which accumulated, one by one, to cause this accident.

We will hear that the site of the accident was covered in a patch of thick fog. We will hear how all the modern equipment intended to allow vessels to take early action despite the fog were defeated by lapses in communication.

We will hear that the Miss Susan’s captain attempted to cross in front of the Summer Wind, despite the fact that the deeper-draft Summer Wind had little room to maneuver in the area. And we will hear that the Summer Wind’s master and the Houston pilot on board persisted in maintaining full ahead speed despite the foggy conditions.

We will hear about oversight issues in the Houston Ship Channel. We will hear that the Bolivar Roads Precautionary Area was not indicated on navigational charts, and that the United States Coast Guard had no vessel separation policy for the area.

Finally, we will hear how it came to be that after the collision, two crewmembers on the Miss Susan failed to use the personal protective gear that was available on board the vessel and were sickened by inhaling fuel oil vapors.

The safety of crew members and the people living and working nearby the accident site were put at risk in this accident, and needlessly so.

The Houston Ship Channel is one of the most traveled waterways in the nation, and we hope that today’s presentation of the circumstances of this accident will provide information and lessons learned that can help other mariners in the area to avoid future accidents.


Now Managing Director Tom Zoeller will introduce the staff.