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Investigators: Operators of both vessels in Gulf crash were distracted

Nov 30, 2015 11:49 AM
The National Transportation Safety Board said neither captain was paying full attention when an offshore supply vessel and a shrimp boat collided in the Gulf of Mexico. The shrimp boat sank.

Pat Rossi illustration/Source: NTSB

The National Transportation Safety Board said neither captain was paying full attention when an offshore supply vessel and a shrimp boat collided in the Gulf of Mexico. The shrimp boat sank.

A 2014 collision between an offshore supply vessel (OSV) and a commercial fishing boat occurred because operators of both vessels didn’t keep proper lookouts, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said.

On Aug. 24, 2014, the 130-foot OSV Gloria May collided with the uninspected 73-foot shrimp boat Capt Le in the Gulf at 2040. Le’s hull was breached, causing it to sink; Gloria May sustained minor damage. All three of Le’s crew were recovered and no injuries occurred. Total losses on both sides were estimated at $225,000.

In its August 2015 investigative report, the NTSB wrote that the OSV captain was busy filling out safety forms that should have been completed before getting underway at the vessel’s previous stop. The fishing boat captain’s attention was diverted from navigation responsibilities, his bright deck lights made it difficult to see ahead, and nets hampered his ability to maneuver.  
“The probable cause of the collision … was the failure of both vessels’ operators to maintain a proper lookout,” the investigators wrote.  

On the morning of the crash, Le left its home port at Bayou La Batre, Ala., and traveled four hours to a fishing area south of Pascagoula, Miss. Le’s captain, who owned the vessel, and two deck hands were on board. At the fishing ground, the crew trawled for shrimp, alternating between reciprocal easterly and westerly courses. 

Gloria May, owned by Gulf Resource Management Inc. of New Iberia, La., was under contract to Chevron Energy to deliver supplies to the 137-foot liftboat Michael Eymard. The elevated Eymard was located at an oil platform 20 miles south of Pascagoula.

Gloria May left Bayou Casotte, Miss., that morning with a master, second captain, two deck hands and a training captain. At noon, Gloria May’s second captain and a deck hand had relieved the master’s watch. The second captain held a Coast Guard master’s endorsement of steam or motor vessels of no more than 100 gross registered tons in coastal waters.

After transferring cargo to the liftboat, Gloria May prepared for its return trip. The deck hand went to the wheelhouse to tell the second captain that the deck was secure and to request permission to make rounds and do maintenance. The deck hand left the wheelhouse.

At 2215, the second captain increased the OSV’s speed to 12.5 knots and put the autopilot on a course of 357 degrees to the first GPS waypoint. He checked the bridge systems, including the two radars and VHF radios, and found them working. He didn’t detect any contacts ahead. 

“Five minutes later, the second captain moved from the front of the bridge to the chart table, which was on the starboard aft side of the control station, and began filling out paperwork required for the voyage back,” the NTSB wrote in its report. “The second captain was alone on the bridge and diverted his attention from his primary duty to maintain a proper lookout.”

After five minutes of paperwork, the second captain returned to the front of the bridge to verify that everything was functioning, and to do visual and radar searches for contacts. The deck hand arrived on the bridge to pick up a part for a repair in the engine room. After locating the item, he returned to the engine room. 

In visual scans, the second captain saw bright deck lights from the nearby fishing vessel, off his starboard bow at 2 nm. He also saw the boat on radar. The port radar was set to 6 nm and the starboard radar was at 0.5 nm. The second captain thought the fishing boat was moving away and not a threat. He had no formal radar training, nor was he required to by the Coast Guard. He resumed work on his safety forms.

At 2215, Le’s captain completed an easterly track and went to the back deck to recover his trynet and check the catch. A trynet is a small sampler net that is used to gauge the likely catch in the larger main nets. Finding the trynet’s catch inadequate, he redeployed that net with a deck hand, and returned to the bridge to turn the boat starboard for a westerly course. He didn’t see the approaching Gloria May visually or on radar.

“During this time, the second captain on the Gloria May stated he noticed bright lights shining into the bridge from the forward direction, and as he looked up from his paperwork he saw that a collision with another vessel was imminent,” the NTSB wrote. He ran to the bridge’s operating station to take control of the steering and throttle. Gloria May’s bow collided with the port side of Le at 2240 at a speed of about 11.5 knots. Le’s captain was knocked from his chair but was not injured, nor were the other two fishing crew.

Le’s captain made a distress call to the Coast Guard. Ten minutes later, the engine room and the fish hold were flooded. After cutting wire ropes free from fishing gear that was tangled with the OSV’s bow mooring, Le’s captain and crew left the vessel for their life raft at 2305.

Gloria May’s captain notified the Coast Guard and company officials. Its crew brought Le’s crew aboard.

Coast Guard Sector Mobile received VHF radio notification from Gloria May at 2240 and requested that Coast Guard Station Pascagoula launch a response boat. When the 45-foot boat arrived on the scene at 2355, Le was listing to its starboard side with damage to the port side of its hull. The Coast Guard brought Le’s crew aboard its boat. That night, the fishing vessel sank in 70 feet of water, with its bow down and its stern projecting about two feet above the sea surface. 

The Coast Guard saw an oil sheen that was 2 nm long and 1 nm wide.Drug and alcohol tests on Le’s captain and on Gloria May’s second captain and deck hand came back negative.

The port side of Le’s hull in the bulkhead area between the engine room and the fish hold was split open over a length of about 10 feet, starting from three feet below the gunwale and extending downward toward the keel. Gloria May sustained denting and scraping of the bow on either side of the stem where the bow had contacted the port side of Le

Damage to Gloria May also was found on handrails forward of the wheelhouse, on the aft mast atop the wheelhouse, and on a communication antenna and a radar antenna.

NTSB investigators reviewed Gloria May’s safety management manual, which requires the watch officer to complete three safety forms before each voyage: a voyage plan, pre-underway checklist and cargo-load calculation. The NTSB report said those forms should have been completed before the trip back to port, and that the second captain shouldn’t have diverted his attention from navigation to complete them.

According to the master’s standing orders, Gloria May’s watch officer was to keep a proper lookout and radio watch at all times. Secondary duties were communications and recordkeeping. Secondary duties shouldn’t interfere with primary duties, the NTSB wrote. 

The second captain was required by navigation rules to maintain a proper lookout and to use all means to assess collision risks. The second captain had two radars and VHF radios. Moreover, because the vessel Le was fishing, Gloria May under navigation rules was expected to keep out of its way.

Le’s captain, who wasn’t credentialed and wasn’t required to be by the Coast Guard, was bound to comply with navigation rules. 

“His night vision was severely degraded by the bright deck lights on his own vessel and his ability to maneuver was restricted by his deployed fishing nets,” the NTSB wrote. However, he should have kept a lookout using all visual, radar and radio means. Le’s captain shouldn’t have assumed that other vessels could see him, nor should he have diverted attention from navigating his boat in a sea area with traffic.

Asked whether she had any reaction to the NTSB report, Emily Crochet, president and chief executive of Gulf Resource Management, said: “The safety and preservation of our vessel crews, clients and the environment are paramount to every operation we undertake as a marine transportation provider. In addition to these core beliefs, we strive for continuous improvement in all processes.”

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