A small oil bunker barge was loaded and underway. Manned only by the Master and a deckhand, the vessel was proceeding on autopilot at 9.5 knots with the Master on the bridge. He observed several AIS targets on the vessel’s ECS display and noted the nearest CPA was predicted to be one nautical mile. He adjusted the autopilot to 350° and then left the bridge. Once on the stern deck he noticed a general cargo vessel approaching from astern but was neither surprised nor alarmed. Soon after, he returned to the bridge and sat on a chair on the port side of the wheelhouse.
Meanwhile, the general cargo vessel was approaching the barge’s port side at a speed of 14.5 knots with the autopilot set to 034°. The OOW was sitting in the bridge chair on the starboard side of the bridge. There was good visibility and smooth seas.
After about eight minutes, with each OOW sitting in their respective chairs, the cargo vessel’s bow struck the bunker barge’s port side. The bunker barge was driven sideways and within seconds had heeled over 90º to starboard. Seawater rushed into its bridge, accommodation areas and engine room through the vessel’s open weathertight doors.
The Master escaped from the ‑ flooded bridge through an open window; meanwhile, the deckhand, who was in the mess room, was fully submerged in seawater. About 15 seconds later the barge broke free, rolled back upright and passed down the cargo vessel’s port side. As the barge came upright, the Master found himself clinging to the bridge roof. The deckhand was washed out of the mess room and over the ship’s side as the ‑ floodwater rushed back out though the open door. He grabbed hold of the top edge of the bulwark to prevent himself being swept completely overboard. Soon the deckhand was able to climb back over the bulwark onto the vessel’s upper deck.
The barge, in danger of sinking, was eventually towed to a nearby port.
Some of the findings of the official report include:
- A proper lookout was not being kept on either vessel.
- Complacency and poor watchkeeping practices were systemic on board the cargo vessel. A lack of mentorship and direction from the vessel’s Master contributed to this situation.
- Lone watchkeeping was a normal practice for both vessels. The risks associated with this had not been properly assessed.
- The bunker barge’s crew did not have the competence necessary to operate a small coastal tanker; the vessel was also not provided with an effective safety management system.