Containership Grounding in New York Harbor – Investigation Report

The accident of this investigation report took place on Saturday, April 15, 2006, when the Hong Kong–registered container ship New Delhi Express, with a master, 2 pilots, 21 crewmembers, and 3 non-crewmember guests (relatives of crewmembers) on board, ran aground in the Kill Van Kull waterway in New York Harbor. The New Delhi Express and two of the three tugs assisting it were damaged in the accident. Luckily, no one was injured, and no water pollution resulted from the accident.

Containership Grounding in New York Harbor - Investigation Report Figure 1

The New Delhi Express arrived at the entrance to New York Harbor about 0200 on April 15, after a transatlantic voyage that began in Gibraltar on April 8. The pilot who would navigate the vessel from the harbor entrance near Sandy Hook to the Kill Van Kull (the Sandy Hook pilot) boarded the vessel at 0210, carrying with him a laptop computer that contained relevant navigation programs. He had piloted another ship the evening before the accident but had been off duty most of the previous 2 days and told investigators that he was well-rested when he boarded the New Delhi Express.

Containership Grounding in New York Harbor - Investigation Report Figure 2

Photo above: View of the Kill Van Kull looking west toward Bayonne and Newark Bay. The New Delhi Express was on its way to Port Newark, at right rear of photo, when it went aground just past the Bayonne Bridge (upper left). (Red vessel in foreground is not the New Delhi Express.)

After the Sandy Hook pilot exchanged information with the master, the pilot assumed navigational control. The New Delhi Express then proceeded inbound toward the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and the Lower Bay of New York Harbor. The weather was calm, with fair to poor visibility in passing fog patches.

Two tugs, the Miriam Moran and the Kimberly Turecamo, had been ordered for the transit through the Kill Van Kull and into Newark Bay. At 0342, near buoy 22, after the New Delhi Express had reduced speed to about 6 knots, the tug Miriam Moran came alongside to embark a second pilot, the docking pilot, for the transit to the dock at Port Newark. He had been on duty the day before the accident but was not called into work and had been off duty for 2 days before that. He was sleeping in the pilots’ trailer at the tugboat yard on Staten Island when called for work on the New Delhi Express.

Accompanied by one of the ship’s crew, the docking pilot made his way up eight decks to the bridge. After greeting the Sandy Hook pilot and exchanging information with him, the docking pilot assumed navigational control of the vessel. The master of the New Delhi Express witnessed the exchange. The vessel was nearing the part of the waterway known as the “Conhook” Reach (Constable Hook Reach). The docking pilot stated that he took the conn when the Conhook Reach was dead ahead, that is, when the vessel left the Upper Bay and entered the Kill Van Kull.

The docking pilot’s duties were to issue steering and engine orders to the bridge team that would guide the vessel 3.8 miles through the dredged channel of the Kill Van Kull, around the turn at Bergen Point into Newark Bay, and to the vessel’s intended docking site at berth 59 of the Port Newark terminal. Buoy 14 marks the start of the turn at Bergen Point and is intended to mark the limit of navigable water beside a submerged ledge where the water is 20 feet deep or less. According to the president of his pilots’ association (Metro Pilots), the docking pilot had navigated over 3,000 ships around Bergen Point.

An ongoing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to deepen the channels in New York Harbor to accommodate deeper-draft vessels required the presence of dredges or drill boats in the Kill Van Kull, including one near buoy 14. Because of the dredging project, the Coast Guard designated the waterway in the accident area as a regulated navigation area. For approximately 0.75 mile on either side of the Bayonne Bridge, the channel was restricted to about half its normal width, and vessel movement was one way only.

When the New Delhi Express entered the Kill Van Kull, the bridge team consisted of the two pilots, the master (who maintained overall command of and responsibility for the vessel), the second mate, and the helmsman. The second mate was stationed at the telegraph to relay engine orders from the pilot and make sure the helmsman followed the pilot’s steering orders. The second mate also kept the logbook. The docking pilot maintained radio contact with the tugmasters and ordered them to either secure lines (ropes) to the vessel or lie alongside and assist in the maneuvering of the vessel by pushing or pulling when instructed. The Sandy Hook pilot stated, “Legally, I’m responsible for the ship from sea to the dock and dock to sea.”.

The docking pilot stated that although the Upper Bay had noticeable pockets of fog when he boarded, visibility was good as the New Delhi Express entered the Kill Van Kull. According to data from the vessel’s VDR, while proceeding west, the docking pilot asked for and received reports on visibility over the VHF radio, which indicated a significant reduction in visibility near the Bayonne Bridge and into Newark Bay. The docking pilot called his office and ordered an additional tug. After receiving acknowledgement that a tug (the Turecamo Girls) would be available, the docking pilot told the tugboat office that his vessel was next to the Coastal Bayonne pier (west of the Conhook Reach) and that “he [the tug] could drift out this way.” The docking pilot gave the tug a position order, “You will be on the port bow with a rope,” before it left the boatyard. The Turecamo Girls did not put a line on the New Delhi Express before the accident.

The New Delhi Express continued west through the Kill Van Kull. The tug Miriam Moran was on the vessel’s starboard bow, with one line secured, and the tug Kimberly Turecamo was following closely on the vessel’s starboard quarter. The ship was on a slow-ahead bell and making about 6 knots. Various commands from the docking pilot to the vessel’s bridge team were given and answered during the transit, as indicated on the VDR. The responses of both the helmsman controlling the rudder and the second mate at the engine order telegraph were accurate and timely. Directions to the tugs from the docking pilot and the tugmasters’ responses are also audible on the VDR recording.

In the Bergen East Reach east of buoy 10, the patchy fog became so dense that, according to the docking pilot, “The visibility by then had dropped down to just about zero.” The docking pilot asked the Turecamo Girls for its position. The tugmaster responded that the tug was just coming out of the yard and asked the docking pilot, “Is that you going by?” The docking pilot responded, “Yeah, that’s me going by.” The docking pilot immediately ordered stop engine, followed quickly by the stop bell. The docking pilot then said, “Just for a minute we will get her down to about 4 knots,” indicating that the New Delhi Express had overshot the position of the Turecamo Girls. The VDR data show that the vessel’s speed did not go below 6 knots.

Through the sequence of events leading to the grounding, conversations recorded on the vessel’s VDR show that the docking pilot repeatedly consulted the tugmasters for their advice on reference points and on the vessel’s progress through the water, as well as frequently asking for the Sandy Hook pilot’s opinion. The New Delhi Express master monitored the vessel’s progress on the starboard radar. The docking pilot was positioned at the port radar. The Sandy Hook pilot stated that he moved between the port radar and his laptop display, which he had set up on the forward bridge rail in front of and a little to the left of the port radar (see figures below). According to the VDR recording, conversation was casual between the two pilots and limited between the pilots and other members of the bridge team, except for issuing and acknowledging steering and engine orders.

Containership Grounding in New York Harbor - Investigation Report Figure 3

Photos above: Bridge of the New Delhi Express. Top photo shows the overall layout. Bottom left photo shows the docking pilot’s position at the port radar. Bottom right photo shows the helmsman’s station (bridge telegraph knob is immediately to right).

As the New Delhi Express approached the Bayonne Bridge, now on a dead-ahead-slow bell, the docking pilot called the master of the lead tug (the Miriam Moran, on the vessel’s starboard bow) for a visual check of his vessel’s position. The Miriam Moran master responded, “It looks like you are right in the middle of the channel.” After trying to identify contacts on the radar, the docking pilot then asked the Sandy Hook pilot, “What do you think, a little right?” The Sandy Hook pilot responded, “Yeah, got to come right.”

Immediately after the Sandy Hook pilot’s response, with the vessel moving at about 6 knots, the docking pilot ordered starboard 20º. He then asked the Turecamo responded, “I don’t see a chock here,” indicating that he was looking for a place to put a line on the New Delhi Express. This statement should have alerted the docking pilot that the tug on the port bow was not yet secure. Instead, the pilot said to the tugmaster of the Turecamo Girls, “I am looking for anything you can see, I’m at zero here.” The docking pilot then asked the Miriam Moran, the forward tug, “How we looking?” The Miriam Moran master responded, “Still looking good you know, you’re a little bit right of the middle of the channel but . . . .”

The docking pilot then asked the Sandy Hook pilot, “What do you think, come right?” The Sandy Hook pilot responded, “Wait until you get under the bridge, then you can start coming right.” On the VDR recording, the docking pilot can then be heard starting a sentence with “I’m still . . .” then the steering order “midship.” This order of events indicates that with the rudder still at starboard 20º, the docking pilot had started the vessel on its path toward the ledge at Bergen Point. While the docking pilot talked to the tugs and the Sandy Hook pilot about visibility and the next course of action, the wheel had remained on starboard 20º. The pilot immediately ordered the rudder back to midships, but by that time, the vessel’s course over the ground was already toward the shallow water. The vessel continued toward the waterway’s north bank.

As the New Delhi Express passed under the Bayonne Bridge, the docking pilot had to navigate between buoy 14 and the drill/dredge boat Fractor. When the Sandy Hook pilot, who was looking at the radar screen, stated, “Beacon, buoy,” the docking pilot said, “We’ve got another buoy to go around?” A few seconds later, the Miriam Moran (on the starboard bow) radioed to the docking pilot, “I think you are too far right. I’m seeing the red side of the bridge here.”

The Sandy Hook pilot then told the docking pilot, “Yeah, you want to come left a little bit here.” The docking pilot immediately ordered “port 20.” The master of the Miriam Moran then warned the New Delhi Express that he was “looking straight out at the buoy,” and the docking pilot began issuing orders to avoid the close-quarters situation with the buoy. The docking pilot ordered “hard to port” with the ship’s wheel and had the Miriam Moran push the vessel away from the buoy. He also asked the Turecamo Girls on the port bow to go half astern, but the tug did not have a line on the New Delhi Express.

At this point, the Sandy Hook pilot was on the starboard bridge wing shouting distances off the buoy to the docking pilot. The Miriam Moran master was telling the docking pilot that things were “getting better all the time.” To navigate by buoy 14, the docking pilot first ordered “midship.” Then, about 30 seconds later, he ordered “starboard 20.” Eight seconds later, as the vessel passed buoy 14, the Sandy Hook pilot said, “You got it midship.” The docking pilot responded “midship,” and the helmsman changed the rudder to midship. The Sandy Hook pilot estimated that the vessel’s starboard side passed buoy 14 within about 50 feet.

Shortly afterward, with the vessel’s bow swinging to the left back into the channel, the New Delhi Express began listing to starboard. None of the bridge team, including the pilots, had felt the vessel touch the ledge. But the list quickly increased to approximately 10° to starboard. The pilots continued to maneuver the vessel away from the ledge and back into the deeper water. The crew was ordered to sound the tanks, which revealed that the New Delhi Express was holed in both the empty No. 4 fuel oil tank and the No. 5 water ballast tank and was taking on water. The increased weight in the empty fuel oil tank and the 10° list to starboard caused the vessel to come to rest on the bottom in the center of the Bergen Point West Reach (see image below).

Containership Grounding in New York Harbor - Investigation Report Figure 4

Image above: Westward track of the New Delhi Express through the Kill Van Kull to its grounding position. The vessel model is dimensionally correct and indicates the vessel’s position at referenced times along its track (blue line). Immediately east of the New Delhi Express’s “stop aground” position is the approximate position of the drill/dredge boat Fractor. Latitude and longitude for the New Delhi Express were obtained from voyage data recorder (VDR) data. The vessel track is overlaid on the navigation chart used aboard the New Delhi Express. The Fractor’s position was approximated from an image generated by the Coast Guard vessel traffic service, New York Harbor, using data from the automated identification system (AIS).

The pilots notified the vessel following them (the container ship Maersk Georgia, about 1 1/4 miles behind) and the Coast Guard vessel traffic service for New York Harbor that the New Delhi Express had grounded, and the vessel’s crew set about reducing the list by pumping ballast into the portside tanks. Additional tugs were called to stand by until the vessel could be moved again. Relief pilots boarded the vessel, and the two pilots of record left to submit statements and undergo mandatory drug and alcohol testing (the results were negative). The vessel refloated on the incoming tide at approximately 0630. By 0800, the New Delhi Express had docked at berth 86 in Port Newark, where Coast Guard personnel boarded it and began an investigation into the accident. The Safety Board’s investigation began a week later, after the Coast Guard discovered a discrepancy in the position of buoy 14.

The New Delhi Express incurred serious damage along 85 feet of the starboard side at the turn of the bilge (see image below). The accident displaced part of the vessel’s bilge keel and breached the No. 4 heavy fuel oil tank and the No. 5 water ballast tank. Because the fuel oil tank was empty, no oil was released into the water. A residual amount of unpumpable oil was removed at the drydock before repairs began. The vessel’s owner estimated repair costs at $1.5 million. The shipyard used approximately 52 tons of steel to repair the damage.

Containership Grounding in New York Harbor - Investigation Report Figure 5

The two tugs that assisted the New Delhi Express on the starboard side—the Miriam Moran at the bow and the Kimberly Turecamo at the stern—suffered hull and propeller damage. Repair costs were $83,000 for the Miriam Moran and $35,000 for the Kimberly Turecamo.


The US National Transportation Safety Board after conducting its investigation report determined that the probable cause of the grounding of the New Delhi Express was the error of the docking pilot in not using all available resources to determine the vessel’s position as he navigated the Kill Van Kull waterway. Contributing to the cause of the grounding was the failure of both pilots to practice good bridge resource management.


As a result of its investigation of the grounding of the New Delhi Express, the National Transportation Safety Board made the safety recommendations listed below.

  • The U.S. Coast Guard should disseminate the information related to the accident to appropriate personnel, emphasizing the need to verify all buoy positioning data during routine position checks and during buoy redeployments.
  • The State Commissions whose harbor pilots work with docking pilots should require harbor and docking pilots to take part in recurrent joint training exercises that emphasize the concepts and procedures of bridge resource management.

Source: US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

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