GALVESTON, Texas (AP) — The captain of a tugboat whose barge collided with a cargo freighter in the Houston Ship Channel said Tuesday the larger vessel increased its speed in foggy conditions and she couldn't maneuver quickly enough to avoid the crash.
The pilot guiding the freighter said he never heard earlier radio traffic from the tug, did not expect it would cross in front of his vessel and did not see the other boat until it was too late to avoid a collision.
No one was hurt in the March 22 accident being examined by federal officials at a weeklong hearing, but nearly 170,000 gallons of oil spilled into the busy waterway between Texas City and Galveston and then into the Gulf of Mexico. Traces of the oil were found as far as 200 miles down the Texas coast.
"That's what really threw me: his speed's increasing," Capt. Kelli Hartman said responding to a question from John Furukawa, with the National Transportation Safety Board. "And I'm thinking, 'Oh no, this ain't looking good.'"
She said she radioed the pilot of the cargo ship Summer Wind and "gave him a chance to save face."
"His response was he was too close and it wouldn't have done no good," Hartman told Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Teresa Hatfield, the lead investigator.
Capt. Michael Pizzitola, whose fellow Houston Pilots Association members are brought aboard ships offshore to guide them into the port, agreed Hartman wanted to know if he could slow his ship, "but it's not going to help," he said.
"I lose maneuverability of the ship," he told the panel. "If I got down to dead slow, I lose most of my steerage when you go to a flood tide like that. That is the only reason I kept her up on full."
Hartman, at the helm of the Houston-based Kirby Inland Marine tugboat Miss Susan, said she would have had time to cross the channel pushing two barges but was surprised to see on electronic tracking devices that the freighter had increased its speed from 10 knots, or about 11½ mph, to 12 or 13 knots. The situation was exacerbated by fog, the flood tide current and the presence of two other vessels in the waterway.
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