Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lessons Learned—The Grounding of a Cruise Ship—Part I

Part I—A Lesson in Maritime Management

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine by Ms. Kriste Stromberg, special correspondent to Proceedings.

Lessons learned from USCG casualty reports are regularly featured in Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council magazine. These articles explore marine incidents and the causal factors, outline the subsequent U.S. Coast Guard marine casualty investigations, and describe the lessons learned as a result.

It is important to note that lives were lost in some of the marine casualties we present. Out of respect for the deceased, their families, and surviving crewmembers, we do not mention the name of any person involved.

It’s a beautiful night in the Caribbean. You are aboard a cruise ship, having a wonderful time. You go to bed to rest for the next busy day of port calls and touring. Suddenly, the ship shudders and you are awakened by the captain’s voice over the loudspeaker, stating that there has been an accident and to please move to the emergency stations.

How could this have happened? This is a modern vessel with the latest navigational aids. The officers and crew are all trained and certified. How could this vessel tear open its hull on a well-known coral reef on a clear night with a calm sea? Let’s take a closer look at what happened very early on the morning of December 15, 1998.

The Incident
The ship was on its usual course from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, to Martinique when one of the passengers suffered a heart attack and required immediate shoreside medical treatment. The master deviated from his course to offload the passenger.

The ship’s doctor returned to the ship about 1:25 a.m., and the master himself piloted the ship to pass to the east of the Proselyte Reef, not the usual departure route of the vessel.

The master decided on this course based on his mariner’s eye and the information from the automatic radar plotting aid. The master felt that this would provide a safe passage around a known hazard and adequate clearance for a sailing vessel in the immediate area, and so he gave the orders to set sail for Martinique on this path.

About three minutes later, the master, not feeling well, left the bridge to retire to his stateroom. On the bridge were the staff captain, the officer of the watch, and two quartermasters as the helmsman and the lookout. Within another two to three minutes, the ship would tear a hole in its hull on the sharp coral of Proselyte Reef.

In part II, we will examine how this happened.

For more information:
Full article is available at Click on “archives” and “2006 Volume 63, Number 2” (Summer 2006).

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