Contributing factors included a lack of over-site from Foss Maritime to ensure all crew members functioned as a team and adhered to the ship's safety management plan and a lack of maintenance to navigation lights on the bridge by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
In a hearing today, NTSB investigators said the navigational crew had opportunities to consult both paper charts and electronic charts to identify the Eggners Ferry Bridge and the proper channel to pass underneath. The navigational crew also had opportunity to slow the ship or turn around.
At a hearing in Washington D.C. The NTSB board proposed a recommendation for the U.S. Coast Guard to monitor bridges with chronic lighting problems and require repairs in a timely manner. The report proposed a review of the Coast Guard's policy of issuing broadcast notices to mariners of possible hazards on a twice-daily schedule. The NTSB said it would notify the State Department of Transportation about responsibilities to maintain navigation lights on bridge. The board planned to require mariners to create voyage plans to include all known and possible hazards and how to prepare for them. Its fifth recommendation was to require route expertise from pilots, and for crews to have a clear understanding of what their own and pilots' duties should be when navigating.
The NTSB report said crew members on the bridge for the Jan. 26, 2012 relied on a contracted pilot for navigational advice. When the ship encountered the bridge, only the eastern span had a navigational light. The pilot told the helmsman to steer for the illuminated span. The NTSB investigators said the crew did not double-check the pilot's instruction, despite concerns it could be heading towards danger. According to the report, the crew relied only on the navigational light to approach the bridge.
The report said Kentucky Transportation Cabinet engineers and workers were unfamiliar with Coast Guard requirements for navigational lights. The lights on the Eggners Ferry Bridge identifying the commercial channel appeared to have been extinguished for several years.
Investigators said the Coast Guard should monitor bridges more closely to ensure compliance with all navigational requirements.
The report said the contract pilot was inexperienced on the Tennessee River. It also recognized his experience as a tow boat operator, as the sole crewman on the bridge. While adding a pilot may have been a non-mandated step to increase safety, his inexperience on the river and lack of experience in a navigational team environment may have further contributed to confusion before the collision.
While all these problems were small individually, the NTSB recognized that each one contributed to the destruction of the bridge span along U.S. 68.