Distractions caused 2022 vessel collision off Louisiana coast, NTSB report finds

Thunder in 2015 (Photo: MarineTraffic.com/Marek Milun)

The bridge watch officers on a bulk carrier and an offshore supply vessel (OSV) were not maintaining a proper lookout before the vessels collided in an incident last year near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said earlier this week.

On July 23, 2022​, the bulk carrier Bunun Queen was transiting eastbound in the Gulf of Mexico and the OSV Thunder was transiting northbound when the vessels collided. 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 US$12.3 million in damages to both vessels.

The NTSB said 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 (AIS) receivers were able to detect the other vessel.

In the time leading up to the collision, neither of the vessels’ officer 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 Thunder was using his cell phone and the second officer on Bunun Queen was engaged in other duties.

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 Thunder’s officer on 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.”

The NTSB said 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,” the report concluded.

Marine Investigation Report 23-09 is available here.      ​

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