Thursday, June 8, 2023

Distracted driving - nautical edition


Once again, someone uses a cellphone instead of concentrating on their job, and havoc results.

A ship operator, distracted from his lookout while texting on his phone, caused his ship to crash into another, resulting in damages of over $12 million to both ships.

Bunun Queen, a 590-foot-long bulk carrier, collided with Thunder, a 250-foot-long supply vessel, off the coast of Louisiana on July 23. And it was all because of a distracted ship operator, a report by the National Transportation Safety Board revealed on May 22. 

Minutes before the crash, the operator on watch was using his cell phone to make a "personal call," the report stated. The Bunun Queen was heading to the Gulf of Mexico when the crash occurred. 

"The call lasted about a minute; after that, the master used voice dictation on his phone to send multiple text messages, all of which were personal in nature," per the NTSB's report. 

The regulator added that while the operator was preoccupied with his phone, the other members of his team had gone to the ship's mess to have lunch. 

By the time the crew was alerted to the incoming Thunder vessel, it was too late to steer clear of it, resulting in a collision, per the NTSB.

. . .

Bunun Queen racked up damages worth $680,000, while operators of Thunder had to fork out $11.6 million  in repair costs. 

The collision happened "​in good visibility, daylight and fair-weather conditions," the report said.

There's more at the link.

I suppose there's no surprise that the crewman became distracted, or just plain didn't bother to do his job.  Back in my dim and distant past, I volunteered for South Africa's National Sea Rescue Institute, and also had maritime connections through my service in the South African Defense Force.  Almost every time there was a marine accident, somebody somewhere proved to have been preoccupied with something other than their job, and the distraction led to the incident.

I lost count of the number of small craft sailors I heard about who got into difficulty, saw a passing ship, and signaled for help (using radio, flares, flags, and anything else that might be seen by the other vessel) - only to see it sail onward into the distance, unheeding and uncaring.  In many cases, subsequent flypasts by a maritime patrol aircraft revealed nobody on the bridge at all.  The ship was being steered by autopilot, with its radar set to sound an alarm if another vessel came within five miles or so, at which time (hopefully) someone would do something about it.  If your vessel was too small to trigger the alarm . . . sucked to be you.

In a busy traffic lane such as the Mississippi Delta and surrounding seas, I'd have expected any professional seaman to be a lot more attentive to his job, because the number of vessels in the area (not to mention oil and gas platforms, fishing boats, etc.) warrants such care.  Clearly, my expectations would have been wrong . . .



Paul, Dammit! said...

Well, there's merchant mariners and then there's the Oil Patch.
The Oil patch is feast or famine. When times are bad everyone's fired. When times are good, they hire at 30-40% more salary than anyone else in the US. As a result you get cowboys, and you get the leftovers, but generally speaking, more of the latter than the former. It's not hard to stereotype, think of a coonass with 3 divorces, a $100,000 pickup and a $10,000 trailer home in his momma's side yard, playing Bejeweled on his cell phone when he's at the wheel.

OTOH I was on the Delaware river 10-15 years ago when a tugboat operator 10-15 miles upriver from us ran down a tourist duck boat and kilt a couple of young folks. He was on the phone scrambling, trying to reschedule his kid's chemo appointment after a doc canceled it on him. An absolute tragedy. The kid didn't make it in the end either.

The Gulf is Chaotic. There are designated fairways, traffic lanes in the areas where platforms operate. They are not mandatory, but they are the only way ships can get through without risking getting their asses torn out by underwater obstructions like old platform bases that aren't always well-marked on the charts. Some of them, like Malfunction Junction, where 3 fairways meet, get chaotic and don't leave a lot of room between oil rigs. When you want to keep as much distance from opposing traffic AND platforms, it gets hairy and people get real soggy and hard to light when you drive an oil tanker over the 12 anchor chains of some of these platforms, which stretch out a 1/2 mile or more from the platform and intermesh with other objects on the seafloor.
Complacency is always a problem. In some ways, the constant traffic and really annoying and variable high currents in New York's harbor complex where I work now are a blessing. You really don't want to take the time to look at your phone for long enough to start texting.

Anonymous said...

Last summer a Chesapeake pilot ran a container ship aground while coming up the bay to Baltimore harbor. It turns out he was spending most of his time on his cell phone. His license was suspended and I think he quit.

Beans said...

Not surprising at all. I mean, if a US Navy ship with actual people on the bridge couldn't see a ship in a busy shipping channel at night with all the wonderful equipment we have, why not the same with merchant ships?

Shipping is one of those places where two people, at least, need to be on the bridge at all times, whether docked or in motion. And there should be 3 or more in congested waters (starboard and port bridge watchers and at least one person on the helm, preferably two.)

Old NFO said...

BOTH ship's watches were at fault... What a surprise...

Both officers on watch admitted to being otherwise engaged in non-navigational tasks. The master on the Thunder told investigators he was using a cell phone before the collision. On the Bunun Queen, the second officer told investigators he was engaged in other duties and not maintaining a lookout, while the AB normally assigned lookout duties was in his cabin resting. As such, both the second officer of the Bunun Queen and the master of the Thunder failed to fulfill a fundamental duty required by international law for a vessel underway: to maintain a proper lookout. Therefore, neither vessel’s bridge watch officer detected the approach of the other vessel.

Aesop said...

This is why keelhauling and flogging, up to and including "flogging around the fleet" should be returned to the list of mandatory punishments in International Maritime Rules.

There would be no second offenses.

a_probst said...

And darned few first offences!

Borepatch said...

OldNFO is exactly right, and "Failure to maintain a proper lookout" is exactly the correct term.

I don't expect that either skip[per will be around for long.