The crash of a 477-foot tanker into a coal pier in Baltimore in 2012 — which cost millions of dollars in damages and injured a dockworker — was likely caused by the "high rate of speed" at which operators tried to maneuver the ship into Curtis Creek, the National Transportation Safety Board said in its final report on the incident, released Friday.
The findings could have implications in pending litigation, though the majority of the damages — those claimed by CSX Transportation, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based railroad that owns the pier — have been settled out of court.
The Wawasan Ruby, owned by Japan-based Trio Happiness, struck the CSX Bayside Coal Pier in Curtis Bay while en route to its berth at the Bitumar Asphalt Dock on Aug. 25, 2012, with the "bulbous lower portion" of its bow smashing through about 200 feet of pilings before coming to a stop, the NTSB found.
Both the pilot, a local member of the Association of Maryland Pilots who was helping steer the ship to its berth, and the master, or the ship's captain, allowed the speed to alter the ship's course as it attempted to make a 70-degree turn into Curtis Creek, the NTSB found.
As the Wawasan Ruby approached the pier, "no one on board the ship sounded the whistle to warn" of an impending collision, and the master failed to step in quickly enough to correct the pilot's actions, the NTSB found.
Despite some tight-angle turns in ports like Baltimore's, where berths can be tucked around outcropped banks along the Chesapeake and its tributaries, such mishaps are uncommon.
"The port of Baltimore as a whole, including both the public and private marine terminals, sees approximately 2,000 ships a year," said Richard Scher, a spokesman for the Maryland Port Administration. "Obviously, that's a tremendous amount, and fortunately, incidents like this one are few and far between."
Part of the reason ports have locally based pilots is that they are more familiar with the maneuvers needed to get ships to specific berths. However, the pilot of the Wawasan on the day of the incident "had not been on board a vessel that proceeded into the lower reach of Curtis Creek in nine months, and the last vessel he piloted through this turn was smaller than the Wawasan Ruby," the NTSB found.
The Wawasan Ruby also had not used tugboats to assist it through the turn, and was traveling at about 9 to 10 knots, the NTSB found. Four other ships had previously navigated through the turn with no incident, the NTSB found — all of them larger than the Wawasan Ruby, all traveling substantially slower, and all using tugboats.
There were 24 people on board the tanker at the time of the collision; none was injured.
A previous report by the Coast Guard Hearing Office, issued in January, found fault with the pilot but not with the master. The Association of Maryland Pilots did not respond to a request for comment.
The pier, which the NTSB said sustained more than $2 million in damages, was out of service for nearly two months. The tanker sustained about $15,000 in damages, the NTSB found.
CSX Transportation accused Trio Happiness of negligence and went to court to prevent the ship from departing Baltimore. A federal judge allowed the Wawasan Ruby to depart to its next port of call, but only after providing a letter of guarantee for payment if CSX won a judgment.
CSX subsequently claimed in U.S. District Court that the collision had caused in excess of $22 million in damages, including from lost use of the pier.
In addition, David Rienas, 43, of Abingdon, who was making repairs atop a coal loader when the crash occurred and was injured, filed a $5.2 million claim against the shipping company as compensation for back, neck and rib injuries.
Geoffrey Tobias, a maritime attorney with Baltimore-based Ober Kaler who represents Trio Happiness, said the company and CSX have reached a settlement.
"The claim of CSX with regard to damage to its pier and expenses incurred in the loss of use of its pier have been resolved between the owners of the ship and CSX Transportation," Tobias said.
He declined to say how much Trio Happiness agreed to pay CSX.
Gary Sease, a CSX Transportation spokesman, confirmed a settlement has been reached with Trio Happiness but also declined to provide details.
Sease said the company values its Baltimore operations and was happy its "Curtis Bay team" was able to put in place interim measures to continue serving some of its customers at the pier.
"We were pleased we were able to restore full operations," he said.
Attorneys for CSX in the case did not respond to requests for comment.
The litigation remains open because Rienas and his wife, Ressalina Rienas, have filed motions to intervene in the case, according to court records.
Tobias declined to comment on whether the NTSB findings could affect the Rienases' pending litigation against Trio Happiness.
David Rienas, reached by phone Friday, said he was "not at freedom to talk about" his case, and referred questions to his attorney, David Skeen. Skeen did not return a request for comment.