Tanker master’s fatigue led to collision with oil rig in Gulf of Mexico, NTSB report finds

Atina in 2018 (Photo: MarineTraffic.com/Orfeas Tsatsos)

A tanker operating company’s decision to change masters without a handover period led to a US$72.9 million marine accident, according to a recently issued National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Marine Accident Brief.

Marine Accident Brief 21/24 details the NTSB’s investigation of the October 17, 2020, striking of the oil and gas production platform SP-57B by the Malta-registered oil products tanker Atina near Pilottown, Louisiana.

Atina, with a crew of 21, was attempting to anchor in the Southwest Pass Fairway Anchorage in the Gulf of Mexico when it struck the platform. The platform’s four crewmembers and one technician evacuated to a nearby platform by helicopter after activating the emergency shutdown device to shut in wells to the platform.

No pollution or injuries were reported. However, estimated damages to the platform and the ship totaled US$72.9 million.

In its report, the NTSB said the company did not comply with its own safety management system (SMS).

The accident master boarded the underway vessel outbound to the anchorage, only seeing the departing master on the tanker’s deck. The company placed the accident master into critical vessel evolutions, such as navigating downriver and anchoring at night, without any overlap with the departing master.

The company’s SMS required a minimum one-day turnover between senior personnel aboard a company vessel if the oncoming senior person worked for the company, and seven days if the senior person was new to the company.

According to the report, the accident master told investigators he wanted to anchor the ship as soon as possible because he was tired. The accident master traveled from Turkey to join the vessel and told investigators he had no sleep for over 50 hours while traveling.

The location he chose did not follow the passage plan anchoring location.

According to Atina‘s passage plan, the tanker’s intended anchorage was about 3.2 miles (5.1 kilometres) northeast of SP-57B. The actual anchoring location was about 0.7 miles (1.12 kilometres) from platform SP-57B.

Investigators determined the probable cause of the contact of tanker Atina with the oil and gas production platform SP-57B was Atina‘s operating company not ensuring sufficient time for the master’s turnover, which resulted in the master’s acute fatigue and poor situation awareness during an attempted nighttime anchoring evolution.

“Vessel operating companies should ensure that joining crewmembers/personnel are given the opportunity to obtain a sufficient handover period and adequate rest before taking over critical shipboard duties, such as navigation, that could impact the safety of crew, property, and the environment,” the report said. In this case, “an overlap would have allowed for the incoming master to rest and receive his counterpart’s handover information.”

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