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Washington State Ferry Captain Lost Situational Awareness Before Hard Landing, Investigation Reveals

Damage to the MV Cathlamet. Photo courtesy Washington State Ferries

Washington State Ferry Captain Lost Situational Awareness Before Hard Landing, Investigation Reveals

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 20526
April 4, 2023

The captain of a Washington State Ferry lost situational awareness before striking an offshore dolphin piling during its arrival at a terminal southwest Seattle, an internal investigation has revealed.

The MV Cathlamet collided with the south dolphin during a scheduled run between the Vashon Island Ferry Terminal and the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal on July 28, 2022, at approximately 08:13:47 in the morning.

At the time of the allision, the captain of the Fauntleroy/Vashon Southworth (FVS) F watch was navigating the Cathlamet. The vessel was operating with a complete deck and engine crew, as per USCG requirements. There was an additional captain, mate, and several deck hands from the FVS “H” watch onboard.

Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

Despite clear weather and negligible wind with an ebbing tide, the MV Cathlamet did not slow its speed as it approached the Fauntleroy dock. The FVS H watch captain took control of the vessel shortly after the allision and docked it at the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal. All crew members evaluated the passengers and each other before beginning to offload passengers. One passenger sustained minor injuries, and one vehicle was damaged and unable to be immediately removed from the vessel.

An investigation by the United States Coast Guard/National Transportation Safety Board and WSF revealed that all machinery and control systems were functioning as designed. Compulsory drug and alcohol tests conducted 2 1/2 hours after the allision indicated no drugs or alcohol use.

Damage to the Cathlamet ferry. Photo courtesy Timothy Couch/Twitter

The WSF investigation focused on several areas, including whether the captain was in the wheelhouse at the time of the incident and whether a mechanical malfunction was a contributing factor. The investigation determined that the captain was present and at the helm of the vessel at the time of the incident, and mechanical issues were ruled out as a cause.

Opinions and recommendations were made based on the investigation’s findings. It was recommended that WSF training standards for deck officers be reinstated to meet internationally accepted standards for vessel bridge watchkeeping. Bridge Resource Management (BRM) was identified as a vital part of this training, which reinforces the roles, responsibilities, and rights that each member of the navigational watch has to themselves and their shipmates.

It was also recommended that all vessels have Voyage Data Recorders (VDR) installed, eliminating confusion regarding what happened during emergencies. With a robust VDR system, any incident will have an evidentiary level of information on what was said by whom, what the plant was doing at the time, what navigational commands were given and when.

The report concluded that the captain lost situational awareness while landing the vessel, and his loss of situational awareness was the primary cause of the incident. The reasons for this loss of situational awareness are unknown and the subject of speculation since drug and alcohol tests were negative, and the captain refused to answer any questions during the investigation. It was recommended that operational management reinforce the WSF BRM policy once implemented, and work performance issues on assigned vessels be appropriately monitored and reported.

Separate Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board investigations are ongoing.

The internal investigation report can be found here.

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