Fatigue Led To Sinking Of Fishing Vessel In Alaska: NTSB

A captain’s decision to get underway while fatigued led to the grounding and sinking of a fishing vessel near Whittier, Alaska, the National Transportation Safety Board said in Marine Investigation Report 22/02 released Tuesday. On July 24, 2021, the fishing vessel Tenacious, which fished primarily for pink salmon, grounded at the entrance to Wells Passage while transiting to fishing grounds in Prince William Sound.

The five crew members abandoned the vessel and were rescued. The Tenacious later sank. One minor injury was reported. Loss of the vessel and fishing gear totalled $660,000 and the 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel onboard were not recovered.

The Tenacious crew arrived in Whittier late on July 22 to resolve maintenance issues with their skiff ahead of the opening of the fishery on July 24. Three of the crew made a 4-hour round trip to Seward, Alaska to borrow another skiff. According to a deckhand, the whole crew was running off “not too much sleep.” About two hours after getting underway for the July 24 fishery, the Tenacious struck rocks. The captain told investigators he fell asleep. The vessel began to take on water and efforts to stop the flooding were unsuccessful. The crew boarded the skiff and were rescued by the fishing vessel Wildlife.

Tenacious under way before the casualty.
Tenacious underway before the casualty. Source: Zimmerman Fisheries LLC

The NTSB determined the probable cause of the grounding was the captain’s decision to get underway while fatigued. Contributing was the decision not to use the navigation system’s cross-track error alarm and to operate with a non-functioning bridge watch alarm.

“Even though captains face economic pressures, operating vessels while fatigued can be dangerous,” said Morgan Turrell, director of NTSB’s Office of Marine Safety. “The crew of Tenacious was fortunate no one was injured; others have not been so fortunate. Owners/operators should ensure crewmembers receive enough rest to adequately perform duties.”

There were two tools that could have prevented the grounding:

  1. Tenacious was outfitted with a chart plotter, which was not in use, that included a cross-track error alarm. It would have visually and audibly alerted the wheelhouse operator when the vessel departed a set distance off its planned track; and
  2. The bridge watch alarm, also not in use, sets intervals to ensure the operator has not fallen asleep. This could have alerted the captain in time to possibly prevent the grounding.

Additionally, the Tenacious was not required by regulations to have watertight bulkheads; however, had the bulkhead between the bunkroom and the engine room been watertight, it would have contained the flooding.

Improving fishing vessel safety remains a priority for NTSB and it is an issue on the NTSB’s 2021-2022 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. NTSB advocates for new standards to address—and periodically reassess—intact stability, subdivision, and watertight integrity in commercial fishing vessels up to 79 feet long.

Marine Investigation Report 22/02 is available online.

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