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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Golden Gate Bridge Collision Illustrates Need for Improved Vessel Monitoring

After a preliminary investigation of the collision between the Cosco Busan and the Bay Bridge, the USCG has reached the conclusion that operator or pilot error was to blame. Language differences and/or a lack of communication were not contributing factors. Investigators further concluded the pilot was not aware of the extent of the damage to the ship and that the severity of the spill could have been lessened had the pilot taken different emergency steps.

A lawyer for the pilot stated the damage wasn't assessed as severe because nobody on board had any idea a fuel tank had been breached or that the skin of the ship had been compromised.

This is not uncommon for large ships like this. A ship entering Long Island Sound several years ago approached shore with a whale stuck to its bulbous bow. Nobody aboard was aware of the collision or the fact that the whale was still stuck on the bow. Another collision occurred a few years ago in the Gulf of Maine between an oil tanker and a herring seiner hailing out of Rockland. The tanker continued on its course, unaware it has been involved in a fatal collision.

People unfamiliar with the workings of huge vessels like this find it hard to believe a catastrophic accident can go largely unnoticed. However, the men and women who sail on these behemoths know differently.

It's time for the international maritime industry to establish hull monitoring standards for large tankers, cruise liners and container ships. These vessels are getting larger and larger. They have reached the size where it's no longer possible for a bridge crew to be aware of what happens to the vessel's outer hull.

Ships have all kinds of equipment for monitoring what happens inside the vessel, e.g. bilges, engines, fluids, compartments, heat, smoke, temperature, etc. But except for navigation, weather, closed circuit video and, in some cases, stress and/or fatigue monitoring devices, there's nothing to let the captain know what and/or if anything has happened to the outside of the hull.


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