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Distracted Watch Officers Led to Collision, NTSB Finds

Damage to the bulbous bow of the Bunun Queen. (Source: US Coast Guard)

Distracted Watch Officers Led to Collision, NTSB Finds

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 17500
June 6, 2023

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation has revealed that the bridge watch officers on a bulk carrier and an offshore supply vessel failed to maintain proper lookouts before their vessels collided last year near Port Fourchon, Louisiana.

The incident occurred on July 23, 2022, when the bulk carrier Bunun Queen was heading eastbound in the Gulf of Mexico and the offshore supply vessel Thunder was traveling northbound. Just before 1:15 p.m. local time, the bulbous bow of the Bunun Queen, which was traveling on autopilot at 14.4 knots, struck the port side of the Thunder, which was traveling at 9 knots.

The collision resulted in significant damage to the Thunder’s port side, causing flooding in one of its propulsion rooms and three other areas.

Fortunately, there were no injuries or pollution reported, but the collision caused $12.3 million in damages to both vessels.

The Thunder being towed to a dock in Port Fourchon after the collision. The inset shows the damage to the aft port side of the vessel. (Source: Coast Guard)

The collision occurred during favorable conditions with good visibility, daylight, and fair weather. Both vessels had radar and automatic identification system receivers that were capable of detecting each other. However, prior to the collision, neither of the officers on watch on the vessels maintained a proper lookout, either by visual scanning or using the available electronic systems to prevent a collision.

Alternatively, both officers admitted to being distracted by non-navigational tasks. The master on the Thunder was found to be using his cell phone, while the second officer on the Bunun Queen was occupied with other duties.

According to the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, every vessel is required to maintain a proper lookout using visual observation, hearing, and all appropriate available means.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the collision was the distraction of the Bunun Queen officer due to non-navigational tasks and the distraction of the Thunder officer due to cell phone use. Both officers failed to keep a proper lookout as a result. Additionally, the Thunder’s officer on watch failed to adhere to the company’s watchkeeping policies, which contributed to the accident.

“Using cell phones and other personal electronic devices has been demonstrated to be visually, manually, and cognitively distracted,” the report said. “Nonoperational use of cell phones and other wireless electronic devices by on-duty crewmembers in safety-critical positions has been a factor in accidents in all transportation modes. Nonoperational use of cell phones should never interfere with the primary task of a watchstander or a bridge team member to maintain a proper lookout. It is important for personnel to follow established protocols regarding cell phone use.”

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