Tanker And Containership Collision in Houston Ship Channel – Investigation Report

At 0906 central daylight time (CDT) on Saturday, October 29, 2011, the 799-foot Greek-flag chemical tanker Elka Apollon, outbound in the Houston ship channel, collided with the 777-foot inbound Panamanian-flag container vessel MSC Nederland at a point in the channel referred to as Five Mile, which is close to the channel’s intersection with the Bayport ship channel.

Prior to the collision, the pilots agreed via VHF radio to a port-to-port passing. As the Elka Apollon began its maneuver to meet the MSC Nederland, the towboat Mr. Earl pushing a fuel barge was exiting the Bayport ship channel off the tanker’s starboard side. According to the pilot on the Elka Apollon, he issued commands to avoid the towboat and barge with left rudder orders and in so doing set the tanker on a heading across and to the left in the channel. The pilot on the tanker tried to regain control of the vessel with a hard starboard rudder order in an effort to avoid the inbound MSC Nederland. The pilot on the MSC Nederland saw the approaching tanker and ordered emergency full ahead and hard to port to try to swing his vessel away from the tanker’s bow. In spite of the efforts of both pilots, the two vessels collided. Elka Apollon was under way for Freeport, Texas, with 342,000 barrels of naphtha onboard when the collision occurred.

Location of the Collision

As a result of the collision, the Elka Apollon sustained damage to its port bow area and the MSC Nederland to its port side at the main deck level in the vicinity of its superstructure. In addition to the vessel’s hull damage, three containers from the MSC Nederland fell onto the forward deck of the Elka Apollon as a result of the impact. The containership’s rescue boat, situated on the vessel in way of the impact area, was released from its secured position and set adrift during the accident. No injuries resulted from the collision. Damage was estimated at $1.5 million for the Elka Apollon and $1.3 million for the MSC Nederland.

Damages onboard MSV Nederland (Source: USCG)

Damages onboard MSV Nederland (Source: USCG)

According to the NTSB investigation the following were not factors in this accident:

  • weather and environmental conditions
  • visibility
  • aids to navigation
  • vessel propulsion and steering systems
  • use of alcohol or illegal drugs

Moreover NTSB has also drawn the following conclusions:

  1. 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.
  2. The pilot onboard 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6.  The actions of the pilot navigating the MSC Nederland were appropriate and effective in reducing the amount of damage sustained by both vessels.
  7. The response to the accident by U.S. Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston, including the Vessel Traffic Service, was timely and appropriate.
  8. A U.S. Coast Guard policy to mitigate traffic congestion in precautionary areas of the Houston Ship Channel would enhance safety.
  9. 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 probable cause of the collision between the Elka Apollon and theMSC 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.

NTSB recommended to the Coast Guard the following:

  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.

NTSB also developed a two-dimensional animation which depicts the sequence of events in which the tanker Elka Apollon collided with the containership MSC Nederland. More information regarding the video can be found HERE.

Source: NTSB


  1. jerald Anthony Vittalis says:

    Very good site

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