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TSB: Error by poorly supervised chief mate led to Quebec grounding

Jan 27, 2015 03:21 PM
The passenger vessel Louis Jolliet, aground and listing in the St. Lawrence River near Quebec’s Ile d’Orleans.  Investigators said the chief mate failed to use navigation electronics effectively during a harbor cruise with 57 passengers.

Courtesy Fisheries and Oceans Canada/Veronique Gagnon

The passenger vessel Louis Jolliet, aground and listing in the St. Lawrence River near Quebec’s Ile d’Orleans. Investigators said the chief mate failed to use navigation electronics effectively during a harbor cruise with 57 passengers.

A passenger vessel ran aground in the St. Lawrence River because the chief mate focused on finding a visual reference while failing to utilize bridge navigation equipment, investigators concluded.

Louis Jolliet was on a day cruise with 57 passengers when the boat ran aground off Sainte-Petronille, Ile d’Orleans, Quebec, on May 16, 2013. After initiating a course alteration, the chief mate did not use navigation electronics to effectively monitor the vessel’s progress, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board said in a report.

Owned by Croisieres AML, the 163-foot Louis Jolliet was built of riveted steel in 1938 by Davie Shipbuilding Ltd. in Lauzon, Quebec, for service as a roll-on/roll-off ferry. It was converted for use as a seasonal passenger/cruise vessel in 1977, primarily making short harbor cruises in the Quebec City area on the St. Lawrence River.

On the day of the grounding, the chief mate was on his second day in his position on the vessel, having received an orientation and sailing for two cruises the previous day. Louis Jolliet departed at 1405 with the chief mate at the wheel following the route sailed the previous evening.

The vessel proceeded upbound along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River for about 10 minutes, to the Quai de la Reine. Monitored by the master, the chief mate executed a course alteration to port. The master then left the wheelhouse for approximately two minutes, and when he returned, the chief mate altered course and proceeded downbound along the southern shore of the river.

Seated at the chart table, the master ate his lunch, read a newspaper and conversed with the chief engineer, the report said. At about 1429, when the vessel was abeam of shipyard facilities ashore, where the practice was to alter to port, the chief mate asked the master to alter course. The master looked out and agreed, and the chief mate then altered to port.

Over the next four to five minutes, as Louis Jolliet crossed the channel in a northeasterly direction, the chief mate searched for the Ange-Gardien range indicating the Chenal de l’Ile d’Orleans, but was unable to locate it. He was not utilizing the bridge navigational equipment or charts to position the vessel, the investigators wrote. At around 1432, the master looked up twice in close succession. There was no communication between the master and the chief mate. At this time, the vessel’s course and position was approximately 2.1 cables east of the range line.

The vessel continued, and, at approximately 1434, was traveling at a speed of about 10 knots. The chief mate, still looking out for the range, glanced at the echo sounder and noticed that the water depth was decreasing. He then glanced at the ECS and alerted the master, whereupon the master stood up, looked out and ordered the rudder hard to port. The chief mate put the helm to port, at which time the vessel struck the bottom and grounded.

Passengers were evacuated approximately 75 minutes after the grounding to two pilot boats and a tug.

In findings as to causes and contributing factors in the grounding, the TSB wrote that “after initiating a course alteration, the chief mate focused on finding a visual reference, the Ange-Gardien range, and did not utilize the bridge navigational equipment to effectively monitor the vessel’s progress as it proceeded off course and went aground.”

In addition, the TSB noted that “during this time, the master was not participating in or supervising the navigation of the vessel, and there was no communication between the master and the chief mate. As a result, the deck watch was effectively composed of a single person — the chief mate — who was expected to fulfill all of the tasks of navigation, maintaining a lookout and steering.”

The TSB wrote that the master did not assess the chief mate’s understanding of the navigational requirements for the intended voyage following the familiarization trip on the previous day, and there was no documented plan for the chief mate to use for guidance.

The TSB said that if all crewmembers are not properly trained in emergency procedures, there is a risk that they will not fulfill their assigned roles effectively in an emergency. If crewmembers do not have comprehensive, documented procedures and realistic drills for passenger safety management tasks, there is a risk that crewmembers will not be able to carry out these tasks effectively.

Since the occurrence, Croisieres AML has implemented a long list of safety actions including tracing tracks for cruises on the marine chart and evaluating crewmembers for their understanding of safety matters on the vessel. A training checklist was developed in order to document the familiarization of new officers. 

In a statement, AML stated that at no time was passenger safety compromised. 

Regarding the emergency plan at issue in this report, AML said that all crewmembers are adequately trained and must know their role in an emergency. Training and exercises are performed each year. Following this incident, AML has used this situation to improve its emergency and internal procedures, the company said.

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