The Incident

A small general cargo vessel grounded when its bridge was left unattended. With its BNWAS system switched off there was no way to alert anyone on board that anything was amiss.

The master had taken over the navigational watch from the chief officer.

According to the bill, a lookout had to be posted during the hours of darkness. However, this was not done, so the master was the sole watchkeeper.

The master altered course to avoid another vessel and then set the autopilot to regain the planned track. He then left the bridge, ostensibly to go to the toilet, but did not return.

Two hours later the cargo vessel grounded.

The grounding woke the crew, who then mustered on the bridge. The chief officer noted that the master appeared incapacitated, and took command of the vessel on the company’s instructions. After a check of the hull integrity, the chief officer was able to refloat the vessel and it continued to its discharge port.

A survey at the discharge port revealed that the vessel had extensive damage and it was removed from service for several months.

Lessons Learned

  1. The chief officer had previously spoken to the master about his excessive drinking and had urged him to stop. On handing over the watch, the chief officer had smelled alcohol on the master’s breath but had assessed him as being fit for duty. Consuming alcohol shortly before taking over the watch is dangerous. Alcohol consumption can lead to drowsiness, inattention, and it can significantly impair performance. It is essential that OOWs are fit for duty. This means they need to be rested and free from any impediment.
  2. It can be extremely difficult to raise concerns - such as excessive drinking - with senior personnel or a company representative, especially if the issue relates to one of your crewmates, and particularly one of higher seniority. However, it is vital that something is said to the right person before the situation has a chance to escalate and place the crew, ship and cargo in peril. A robustly enforced drugs and alcohol policy, with equipment provided on board for routine testing can help.
  3. Most ships’ bridges are awash with electronic equipment all designed to assist in the safe navigation of the vessel. However, to gain advantage, the equipment must be operational and switched on. In this case, had the BNWAS been switched on there would have been enough time for it to alert others on board that the bridge was unattended.
  4. A watchbill takes into consideration the required manning levels for a variety of operational circumstances. Had a lookout been posted on the bridge, this accident could have been averted.