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Old 31-10-2009, 19:10   #1
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A Sad Lesson

What is to learn from this?


"At approximately 4 a.m. on September 20, 2006, the 92-foot sailboat Essence and the 623-foot coal carrier Barkald were on nearly reciprocal courses in Long Island Sound when they collided. S/Y Essence sank, resulting in one crewmember’s death from drowning. In November 2007, the U.S. Coast Guard released its official findings on the collision.

Barkald was outbound and Essence was motor-sailing on an inbound course. At the time of the collision, Essence’s mate (who did not have a captain’s license) was at the helm. The captain was asleep in the salon and the chef (who was licensed) was asleep in the pilothouse. According to the USCG report, the mate had been sick the day before and was making his first passage through the Sound.

There were four licensed officers, including a pilot, on watch on the bridge aboard Barkald at the time of the accident. However, approximately one minute and 17 seconds before impact, it was the mate aboard Essence who initiated radio contact. According to a transcript of the exchange, the mate aboard Essence hailed Barkald on 16 by saying, “Motor vessel off my port, motor vessel off my port….” Upon raising Barkald on his second attempt at contact, he said, “I don’t know if you know this but, um, your – your port light is not working; only the starboard is shining, over.”

The pilot did not respond to the comment regarding the port light and no agreement was made on course alteration; instead, the pilot replied, “Okay, so are you going to stay clear of my vessel?”

The mate responded, “Ya, I’m staying clear of your vessel.” Moments later, having clearly misread Barkald’s lights – which were in fact all working at the time of the accident – the mate “effected a seventy to ninety degree turn to starboard, crossing the Barkald bow, resulting in the collision.”

The USCG report indicates that the primary cause of the accident was “the failure of the mate on the Essence to properly identify the aspect of the lights of the Barkald and his position in relation to the Barkald.” However, the report goes on to list the Inland Water Navigation Rules violated by both vessels, which included: failure to maintain a proper lookout, improper communications, failure to determine that a collision risk existed, failure to make visual and/or radar contact and several other obvious factors in the accident.

“In reviewing the USCG and other reports of the incident, it would be far too easy and obvious to state that if both bridge teams had properly followed the Inland Navigation Rules, which they were required to do in these waters, the incident could have been avoided,” says Capt. Stewart Fontaine, a 3,000-ton captain who’s been in the industry for more than 20 years. He’s had vast experience as a relief captain and draws his operational style from the procedures of many different yachts.

“Some might say that it was because the mate on Essence was not licensed and therefore did not have a good working knowledge of the Rules,” says Fontaine. “If this was indeed the case, then the blame lies squarely with the captain and owner for allowing an unqualified person to operate the vessel. Ignoring all the obvious evidence to the contrary for a moment, my guess is that the mate, having already spent two years on board Essence, was probably… experienced standing watch underway alone and apparently had the captain’s confidence. Besides, if all it took was a license to avoid this collision, Barkald should have been able to do so singlehandedly with the collection of licenses they had on their bridge that early morning.”

In considering the incident from Essence’s perspective, Fontaine says, “The overriding question on my mind is why was the mate the only one awake on the bridge when he had apparently judged that they were on a head-on collision course with another vessel?” Fontaine appreciates the fact that there were only three crewmembers on board and sometimes vessels have to make do with what they have versus what would be optimal. But, he says, “Regardless of the size of the vessel and crew, the captain must provide, at the very least, a clear concise, written list of scenarios and instructions…[for which] the watch-stander is required to immediately call the captain and make him aware of the situation.”

“It is the captain’s responsibility to ensure that all watch-standers understand the reason the scenarios are on the list, why it is important for them to recognize as early as possible that one of the scenarios is developing and to make sure they understand that the safe operation of the vessel remains the captain’s responsibility whether he is on the bridge or not,” Fontaine says. “Had the mate of Essence called the captain, there is a good chance that between the two of them working as a bridge team, they would have come to a better conclusion than the mate did on his own.”

The tragedy reiterates the timeless truth that accidents at sea rarely are caused by a single mistake and provides some valuable lessons about complacency on any passage.

An item notably absent from the report is the element of fatigue. Though it does note that the mate had been ill the day before the incident, sources close to the crew allege that Essence recently had come out of the shipyard and was not budgeted to bring additional crew aboard prior to making the passage to Greenwich.

“When you consider that the collision occurred at 0400 and that Essence was sailing with a very short crew, the effects of fatigue must be taken into account,” Fontaine says. “With a crew of three and only one of them awake on the bridge in the run-up to the collision, it is difficult for me to fully accept that the mate was well rested and alert. Anyone who has worked the ‘graveyard watch’ will tell you that it can be very difficult to maintain the mental alertness necessary to make proper judgments, especially on the first night of a voyage, when your internal clock is trying to put you to sleep.”
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Old 31-10-2009, 19:55   #2
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This was a tragic accident and at least 1 female crew member of the Essence was killed in the process. It should have been avoidable.
The analysis posted above makes sense to me; that fatigue on their first night out on a shorthanded delivery likely played a big part in the outcome. What was not mentioned in the above analysis are the weather conditions and state of the moon.
What I find most glaring is that on both of these vessels there is no mention of either ship using their radar given it was 0400 and likely quite dark if not raining or worse.
My only ocean trip from Tortola to TCI (400 nm) on a Bene 1st 51' had radar which came in very handy on the night watches while passing the Mona Passage miles from any land. My eyes picked up the lights of nearby ships but it was damned reassuring that the radar did also with it's proximity alarm set. Since there were only 2 of us on that trip I did wake the captain/owner when one boat got pretty close to us.
Using the radar does use some power but why would you not have this equipment on a 92' sailboat or even not use it if you had it? This confounds me.
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Old 31-10-2009, 20:07   #3
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Having done a number of deliveries with green crew, in some cases crew making their first trip ever on a sailboat I always made one instruction really clear.

If you have any questions while on watch, call me. If you're not sure, call me. If you think you might have a question about anything at all, call me. If I'm asleep, wake me. If you are not sure if you should call me or not, call me. If you hear something, see something or think you might have heard something, call me.

If you call me, I promise I will never, ever be upset, no matter what the reason. If I've been on watch for two days and just went to sleep I promise I won't care if you wake me for the most trivial reason you can imagine.

If the captain of the Essence had given this order I think the accident would have been avoided.
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Old 31-10-2009, 20:20   #4
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What a terrible tradgedy.

Must assume the lights are right and we are wrong.


Ships at night can look totally weird.
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Old 31-10-2009, 20:23   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CalebD View Post
This was a tragic accident and at least 1 female crew member of the Essence was killed in the process. It should have been avoidable.
The analysis posted above makes sense to me; that fatigue on their first night out on a shorthanded delivery likely played a big part in the outcome. What was not mentioned in the above analysis are the weather conditions and state of the moon.
What I find most glaring is that on both of these vessels there is no mention of either ship using their radar given it was 0400 and likely quite dark if not raining or worse.
My only ocean trip from Tortola to TCI (400 nm) on a Bene 1st 51' had radar which came in very handy on the night watches while passing the Mona Passage miles from any land. My eyes picked up the lights of nearby ships but it was damned reassuring that the radar did also with it's proximity alarm set. Since there were only 2 of us on that trip I did wake the captain/owner when one boat got pretty close to us.
Using the radar does use some power but why would you not have this equipment on a 92' sailboat or even not use it if you had it? This confounds me.
The sailboat was motorsailing, so the consumption of power by the radar would not even have been an issue.
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Old 31-10-2009, 20:28   #6
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I have to agree with skipmac about his 'do disturb' orders. I was new to ocean sailing and watch keeping at night but very riveted and excited to be there. When one boat seemed to circle us I woke the captain so he could judge for himself what actions needed to be taken to protect his boat. The Bene 51' I was on had everything on it for an ocean crossing (had just crossed from Canaries the previous autumn to St. Lucia via ARC) but the VHF seemed to be sub standard.
I still think that a novice standing watch who was paying attention to a radar unit would have figured out what to do long before this fatal collision happened, unless they were fatigued or otherwise compromised.
I'm still to lazy to look up the historical weather or state of the moon.
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Old 31-10-2009, 21:23   #7
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This is my rule also as Chief Engineer

I also add smell anything out of the usual

Quote:
Originally Posted by skipmac View Post

If you have any questions while on watch, call me. If you're not sure, call me. If you think you might have a question about anything at all, call me. If I'm asleep, wake me. If you are not sure if you should call me or not, call me. If you hear something, see something or think you might have heard something, call me.

If you call me, I promise I will never, ever be upset, no matter what the reason. If I've been on watch for two days and just went to sleep I promise I won't care if you wake me for the most trivial reason you can imagine.

If the captain of the Essence had given this order I think the accident would have been avoided.
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Old 31-10-2009, 22:27   #8
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If you have any questions while on watch, call me.
We have a wireles door bell. The watchkeeper has the button at the helm and the offwatch person has the buzzer wherever they are sleeping. Can I tell you its NOT just to wake the captain as in Indonesia a couple of times I woke Nicolle when I needed a second set of eyes to work out what the hell I was looking at
Lots of ship and fishing boat lights were wrong there. A second set of eyes, fresh, can see a thing quite clearly which has puzzed me for minutes!
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Old 01-11-2009, 00:20   #9
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10 minute egg time on watch too, to prevent people from falling asleep. If you're drifting, keep the egg timer with you, and set it for ten minutes.
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