Distracted Bridge Watch Officers Did Not Detect Approaching Vessel

The bridge watch officers on a bulk carrier and an offshore supply vessel were not maintaining a proper lookout before the vessels collided last year near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday.

On July 23, 2022, the bulk carrier Bunun Queen was transiting eastbound in the Gulf of Mexico, and the offshore supply vessel Thunder was transiting northbound when the vessels collided. The Thunder sustained substantial damage to its port side, which resulted in the flooding of one of its propulsion rooms and three other spaces. No injuries or pollution were reported. The collision resulted in $12.3 million in damages to both vessels.

The collision occurred in good visibility, daylight, and fair-weather conditions. Each of the vessel’s automatic radar and plotting aid displays and automatic identification system receivers were able to detect the other vessel. In the time leading up to the collision, neither of the vessels’ officers on watch maintained a lookout—either by visual scanning or using the available electronic systems to prevent a collision. Both officers on watch stated they were engaged in non-navigational tasks. The master on the Thunder was using his cell phone and the second officer on the Bunun Queen was engaged in other duties.

Bunun Queen
Bunun Queen (left) and Thunder (right) are pictured before the collision. (Source: Wisdom Marine International (left) and Jackson Offshore (right)).

The Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea requires “every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate.”

The NTSB determined the probable cause of the collision was the Bunun Queen officer’s distraction due to performing non-navigational tasks and the Thunder officer’s distraction due to cell phone use, which kept both officers from keeping a proper lookout. Contributing to the casualty was the Thunder’s officer on the watch not following his company’s watchkeeping policies.

“Using cell phones and other personal electronic devices has been demonstrated to be visually, manually, and cognitively distracted,” the report said. “Nonoperational use of cell phones and other wireless electronic devices by on-duty crewmembers in safety-critical positions has been a factor in accidents in all transportation modes. Nonoperational use of cell phones should never interfere with the primary task of a watchstander or a bridge team member to maintain a proper lookout. It is important for personnel to follow established protocols regarding cell phone use.”

Marine Investigation Report 23-09 is available online.

Press Release

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