Collision between Elka Apollon and MSC Nederland: NTSB report blames pilot

This is a reproduction of the synopsis published by the National Transportation Safety Board:


Public Meeting of September 25, 2012

(Information subject to editing)

Marine Accident Report:

Collision of Tankship Elka Apollon

With Containership MSC Nederland

Houston Ship Channel, Upper Galveston Bay, Texas

October 29, 2011


This is a synopsis from the National Transportation Safety Board’s report and does not include the NTSB’s rationale for the conclusions, probable cause, and safety recommendations.  Safety Board staff is currently making final revisions to the report from which the attached conclusions and safety recommendations have been extracted.  The final report and pertinent safety recommendation letters will be distributed to recommendation recipients as soon as possible.  The attached information is subject to further review and editing.


The Elka Apollon, a Greek-flag tankship, was outbound on the Houston Ship Channel for Freeport, Texas, on the morning of October 29, 2011. The MSC Nederland, a Panamanian flag containership, was inbound on the same waterway to offload cargo at the Bayport Container Terminal at the western end of the Bayport Ship Channel. The pilots on the two deep draft, oceangoing vessels agreed by radio that their ships would meet and pass one another just south of the intersection of these two shipping channels.

The pilot on the inbound MSC Nederland planned to let the Elka Apollon pass before turning to port into the Bayport channel. The pilot conning the Elka Apollon ordered a series of rudder commands as the vessel transited the intersection of the two channels and approached the MSC Nederland. A towboat, the Mr. Earl, under way in the vicinity and pushing an empty barge, was exiting the Bayport channel as the Elka Apollon was passing. As the distance between the Elka Apollon and the MSC Nederland closed, the Elka Apollon crossed the centerline of the Houston Ship Channel and subsequently struck the port side of the MSC Nederland.

No injuries resulted from the collision. The impact caused structural damage to both vessels, and three damaged containers from the MSC Nederland fell onto the deck of the Elka Apollon. The collision also tore off the MSC Nederland’s rescue boat and set it adrift in the waterway. Damage was estimated at $1.5 million for the Elka Apollon and $1.3 million for the MSC Nederland.


1.  The following were not factors in this accident: weather and environmental conditions, visibility, aids to navigation, vessel propulsion and steering systems, and use of alcohol or illegal drugs.

2.  The combination of the narrow waterway, bank effects at the Bayport flare, traffic density, and vessel speed increased the challenges for the pilot on the Elka Apollon in a waterway with a limited margin for error.

3.  The pilot on the Elka Apollon and the captain of the Mr. Earl should have exercised prudent seamanship by communicating with each other about their intentions and taking early and sufficient action to avoid their subsequent close-quarters situation.

4.  The conning pilot on the Elka Apollon did not appropriately respond to the varying hydrodynamic forces affecting the vessel during its transit of the Bayport flare, resulting in the pilot’s inability to alter the Elka Apollon’s course sufficiently to avoid the collision with the MSC Nederland.

5.  Given the presence of the Elka Apollon, a deep-draft tanker, the captain of the towboat Mr. Earl should not have turned into the Houston Ship Channel barge lane as the Elka Apollon was passing.

6.  The timing of the rudder commands of the pilot of the Elka Apollon suggest that the close-quarters situation that later developed with the Mr. Earl was not a factor in the collision with the MSC Nederland.

7.  The actions of the pilot navigating the MSC Nederland were appropriate and effective in reducing the amount of damage sustained by both vessels.

8.  The response to the accident by U.S. Coast Guard Sector Houston–Galveston, including the Vessel Traffic Service, was timely and appropriate.

9.  A U.S. Coast Guard policy to mitigate traffic congestion in precautionary areas of the Houston Ship Channel would enhance safety.

10.  Because precautionary areas are not currently identified on Houston Ship Channel navigation charts, mariners may be unaware of the existence and location of these areas.


The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the collision between the Elka Apollon and the MSC Nederland was the inappropriate response of the pilot of the Elka Apollon to changes in bank effect forces as the vessel transited the Bayport flare, causing the vessel to sheer across the channel and into the MSC Nederland.  Contributing to the accident was the combination of the narrow waterway, bank effects at the Bayport flare, and traffic density at the time, which increased the challenges in a waterway with a limited margin for error.


New Recommendations

To the U.S. Coast Guard: 

1.  Develop and implement a policy to ensure adequate separation between vessels operating in the Bayport Channel and Bolivar Roads Precautionary Areas and any other similarly configured precautionary areas in the Houston Ship Channel.

2.  Graphically delineate precautionary areas on appropriate Houston Ship Channel nautical charts so they are readily identifiable to mariners.


1 Comment

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One response to “Collision between Elka Apollon and MSC Nederland: NTSB report blames pilot

  1. cap jamal

    the safe speed and the right monavoraning r must bee have at sea

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