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The cargo ship GH Storm Cat sits docked at the Zen-Noh Grain elevator in Convent some time before a Nov. 11, 2020, crane collision. The crash, which damaged an elevated conveyor belt, cost more than $481,000.

The failure to have an on-the-ground spotter while a ship crane was in operation led to a costly collision with the Zen-Noh Grain elevator in St. James Parish nearly a year ago, federal safety investigators said.

On Nov. 11, the GH Storm Cat had been lifting and moving a small front loader from the ship's hold onto the dock along the Mississippi River when the crane boom sliced into an elevated conveyor belt, NTSB investigators said.

The damage to the conveyor belt, which is enclosed in a metal housing, cost $481,006 to repair and slowed the elevator's operations for a few days, investigators said in the new National Transportation Safety Board report released Tuesday.

“All ship’s lifts—no matter how routine—should be adequately planned and risk assessed,” the NTSB report said. “All personnel involved in the lifting operation should be clearly identified and their duties understood before the start of the lift.”

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At the time of the collision, the ship had been loading up with corn from the grain elevator in Convent and the 8,180-pound front loader was being used to level out mounds of corn kernels in the ship's holds. 

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NTSB investigators said the crane operator thought the Zen-Noh employee who had attached his crane's hook onto the front loader so it could be lifted was also going to be his spotter, or "signalman."

But the Zen-Noh employee told investigators that the grain elevator's procedure was for ship employees to serve as the signalman. 

NTSB investigators noted the crane operator failed to stop and check who his signalman was after he lost sight of the Zen-Noh employee, who had walked off after attaching the hook to the front loader.

Neither the crane operator nor the Zen-Noh employee tried to talk to each other before or during the crane lift, investigators said. 

NTSB investigators said that, if there had been a signalman, that person likely would have noticed how close the crane was to the elevated conveyor belt and the collision could have been avoided.

No injuries or pollution were reported last year in the crash, which was recorded on surveillance video.


Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.