Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine. Click on Part I, Part II, or Part III for previous entries.
As a result of the collisions, B. No. 155’s port tank was ruptured and spilled its cargo of oil into the waterway; the Ocean 255 was in flames. Balsa 37 suffered damage to both cargo holds.
Fortunately, there were no fatalities or serious injuries.
There was plenty of blame to go around, and the USCG Marine Board of Investigation apportioned it among all the mariners involved.
The captain of the Seafarer received the lion’s share, due to his ill-advised attempt to overtake another tow near a turn, with approaching traffic.
The pilot of the other inbound tow was cited for assenting to being overtaken and the pilot and captain were blamed for not alerting the outbound vessel of the overtaking when the captain of the overtaking vessel failed to do so.
The report also noted that the pilot of the outbound freighter was inattentive to his duties, as he failed to ensure that the vessel kept to his side of the channel, and did not recognize that the Seafarer was overtaking.
Although there were many factors that led to this casualty, the lessons learned from it can be summed up in two phrases:
· Don’t assume.
· Pay attention.
In this incident, the assumptions ran rampant.
Those aboard the inbound vessels assumed that the outbound freighter would steer a course that would keep it well to the north side of the channel at the turn.
Indeed, the pilot of the vessel thought he had ordered that course change. He did not, however, ensure that his order was understood or carried out, and no one aboard the two oncoming vessels questioned the pilot on the delay in initiating the turn.
Many assumptions were made on the basis of radio communications. The USCG report mentioned that the various operators made navigational decisions based on what they overheard in radio transmissions.
For example, the pilot of the Bouchard tow overheard a pilot make arrangements to overtake the Seafarer. Since his tow was ahead of them both and only making 6 knots, the Bouchard pilot radioed that vessel and also made arrangements to be overtaken. He then made the same offer to the mate on the Seafarer, who declined.
The mate probably assumed that the captain had overheard him decline the offer to pass or thought he had mentioned it when he briefed the captain on the traffic situation. He did not ensure that he successfully communicated this.
It can also be inferred that the captain of the Seafarer assumed that the pilot of the outbound freighter overheard the radio conversation in which he requested permission to overtake the Bouchard tow.
This is where the next admonition—pay attention—comes into play.
When the Seafarer’s captain and the pilot of the Bouchard were discussing the overtaking, the freighter pilot was making arrangements to be picked up for his next assignment. He wasn’t paying attention to the oncoming traffic or (apparently) to the course of his vessel.
Additionally, had the Seafarer captain paid attention to his mate’s explanation of the traffic situation, or checked the radar himself, he probably would not have attempted to pass.
Fortunately, incidents such as the one described here are rare. This incident, however, serves as a reminder that mariners must remain ever vigilant, since even small errors or lapses in attention can have huge consequences.
For more information:
Full article is available at www.uscg.mil/proceedings. Click on “archives” and then “2007-08 Vol. 64, Number 4” (Winter 2007-08).
Subscribe online at http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/subscribe.asp.
Direct requests for print copies of this edition to: HQS-DG-NMCProceedings@uscg.mil.
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