Bay Bridge Update: Pilot in oil tanker incident changed course near Bay Bridge, during difficult currents

By Accidents

Just before a 752-foot oil tanker vessel crashed in the fog with the Bay Bridge last week, the captain of the tanker vessel changed course in a risky maneuver which placed the ship into a rough turn even as strong currents swirled around the bridge towers.
The last report, revealed Monday in interviews with the Bay Area News Group, points to pilot mistake, even though thickening fog, a faulty beacon and unsafe currents also occurre to have contributed to the incident that raised fresh questions about oil tanker vessel safety in the bay.
Just why sixty-one-year-old pilot Guy Kleess changed course of the vessel as the Overseas Reymar neared the Bay Bridge on 7th of January, 2013 is still unclear. With very poor visibility amongst shifting fog, pilot Kleess set course to sail among 2 towers near the middle of the Bay Bridge as the oil tanker ship headed to sea.
But after that – just like a truck driver switching lanes while coming into a toll plaza – captain Guy Kleess maneuvered the vessel into a last-minute turn and attempted to go through a distinct opening.
"He initially informed to go through Charlie-Delta and after that changed," told captain Peter McIsaac who is president of the San Francisco Bar Pilots. "The USCG is now investigating the accident. I can not speculate why."
The 2 towers of the Bay Bridge are defined by letters on nautical charts. The pilot Guy Kleess, a former Exxon oil tanker vessel pilot that has sailed professionally for over thirty years, including 1,200 trips on the bay with big vessels, had scheduled to go through the opening among the "C" and "D" towers, but after that for reasons which is still unknown, made an east turn as he approached them, and attempted to sail among the "D" and "E" towers of Bay Bridge instead.
"You will across at a fairly acute angle. It isn't an easy maneuver to do," added Capt. McIsaac.
The oil tanker vessel, the Overseas Reymar, sideswiped the "E" tower at 11:18 am, which maneuver caused a bad scrape down the tanker's hull and some million dollars damages to the bridge and the vessel.
On Monday, USCG authorities reported that Guy Kleess, together with the Overseas Reymar's captain and crew members, passed drug and alcohol tests. Also Monday, Guy Kleess' attorney refuted that exhaustion was a key factor.
Guy Kleess that rents a house in San Francisco but also has homes in Wyoming and Maryland, had been in the Bay Region since New Year's Day and hadn't been on duty for thirty-nine hours, according to captain records.
"He must had been well rested," told his attorney Rex Clack, of San Francisco.
The incident was the 2nd time a big vessel crashed into the bridge in the past 5 years. In 2007, the cargo vessel Cosco Busan crashed into the "D" tower and spilled 53.000 gallons of bunker fuel into San Francisco Bay, oiling sixty-nine miles of shoreline and took thousands victims of birds. The oil tanker ship Overseas Reymar was empty, having unloaded millions f gallons of crude oil at the Shell refinery in Martinez the night before the accident, but the incident has raised great concerns between environmentalists, the shipping industry, marine safety authorities and the USCG. Had the oil tanker vessel been full of oil, it might have created an ecological disaster.
"Every time you take a huge vessel just like this in difficult currents and make last-minute, unscheduled changes in course, this is a recipe, potentially, for distress, especially when you're near to a bridge," stated Bob Bea who is a former Shell oil tanker captain and engineering professor emeritus at UC Berkeley.
Even worse, the oil tanker vessel went under the Bay Bridge as currents swiftly accelerated due to a falling tide in a condition which is generally known as a "maximum current." In 2007, Bob Bea told, he almost crashed his thirty-four-foot sail vessel into the same tower during similar weather conditions.
"It is like stumbling across black ice on a roadway," added Bob Bea. "Abruptly you change direction and speed swiftly and have to recover equally quickly. If you're hemmed in by 2 large trucks, well, we have got a problem, Houston."
An acerbic part of the marine officials' investigation by the USCG and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Bob Bea told, is going to be learning why captain Guy Kleess changed course of the oil tanker. It must have been a mechanical failure on the vessel or vessel's radar, he told, or miscommunication with the crew members and captain, based in the Philippines, or just a mistake in judgment at a time when the USCG reported visibility was only a quarter mile because of the fog.
A radar beacon on the bridge which signal the seamen the midpoint among towers "C" and "D" was found not to be working after the incident. The US$45,000 device which is well-known as "racon B," is 1 of 3 such beacons on the bridge, and is owned by Caltrans.
"These things last for several years but not forever," told Caltrans spokesman Will Shuck. "We do replace them, when they do break down. This is what we're doing now."
Asked whether the broken radar beacon might have caused Guy Kleess to become confused, or affected enough by the fog to change course of the oil tanker, Guy Kleess' attorney, Clack, told he did not know about it.
"We are now looking at the result of navigational aids being out," he added. "But at this moment it would be untimely given the level of our authoritiy's investigation to speculate."
Shipping pilots are professionals that help captains bring big vessels into the bay and negotiate local conditions of the port. They usually work 1 week and have the following week off.
Guy Kleess hadn't sailed for thirty-nine hours before boarding the oil tanker Overseas Reymar at 10:30 am on 7th of January, 2013 McIsaac told. The oil tanker vessel sat at "Anchorage 9," a zone just south of the Bay Bridge where such kind of ships and other big vessels often park while refueling and taking on food for crew members, when Guy Kleess sailed up on a small pilot vessel. He relieved another pilot who had sailed the vessel late Sunday night and early Monday morning down from the Shell Martinez dock to Anchorage 9.
USCG spokesman Dan Dewell told Monday the investigation could take months.
"The USCG and NTSB investigators are now looking into all potential factors which must have contributed to the incident," he told. "We are trying to define what happened and how to evade a recurrence."