Real Life Incident: Alcohol Abuse Suspected In Near Collision
A tug was towing an oil production platform on a line about 1,000m long in good visibility and sea conditions. A close quarters situation was developing with a cargo vessel to starboard. Given the tow, the tug was unable to manoeuvre. The OOW of the tug contacted the cargo vessel and requested the cargo vessel alter course to port to go around the stern of the rig. The OOW of the cargo vessel, who was the Master, signalled his agreement and began altering course to port, but very slowly.
A few minutes later, the tug OOW again contacted the Master of the cargo vessel and insisted they alter to port more quickly as the CPA between the rig and the cargo vessel was zero. After further communication the Master of the cargo vessel then realised he was about to pass between the tug and the towed platform, so he made a hard alteration to port and passed the platform’s stern by about 260 metres.
An investigation by the cargo vessel’s company was initiated because the tug company contacted the cargo vessel company about the close call. From the data on the voyage data recorder (VDR), it was found that the Master of the cargo vessel was navigating visually and had no indication of CPA whatsoever, as both radars were set on standby during the near miss situation. According to the VDR recording, the Master initially steered the cargo vessel towards the stern of the tug, probably unaware of the fact that a tow line lay between the tug and the oil platform.
It was later discovered that the vessel’s three senior officers, Master, chief mate and chief engineer, had serious alcohol consumption problems. Junior crew were aware of these facts but they were afraid to report the senior officers to the company management. Given the sequence of events it is highly likely that the Master, acting as OOW, was under the influence of alcohol at the time.
Irrespective of your rank, always take measures to inform management of alcohol abuse on your vessel – your life may depend on it.
The company’s safety management system should allow for a procedure to report any deficiency to company management, including drug and alcohol abuse by the crew and Master.