Alcohol and fatigue lead to vessel grounding

Taking the watch alone at night while being tired is always a very bad idea. Adding alcohol into the mix is even worse. A recent Mars Report tells of a ship’s master who did just that resulting in the vessel grounding.

The incident was covered in a recent Mars Report. These reports are compiled (anonymously) by The Nautical Institute to prevent other accidents from happening. A summary of this incident:

A small vessel was on a short sea trading routine, making shuttle trips between two ports separated by approximately twelve hours’ sailing. On the ballast leg of the route, the master had taken the night watch to allow the chief mate to rest, as he would be busy all the next day with cargo operations once in port. There was no lookout on the bridge during any part of the voyage because, according to the master, the crew had worked so hard during the unloading period.

At one point, the master altered course toward the destination port. The next thing he remembered, he was woken by a call on the VHF radio. The call came from the pilot boat at the arrival port, asking if everything was OK because the vessel seemed to be in shallow water.

The master answered that everything was fine – but within a few seconds of the call, the vessel grounded. The vessel had passed straight by the arrival destination without turning to port and had continued on until it grounded.

The short sea vessel’s track before grounding.

Investigation findings

The official investigation noted, among others, that:

  • The bridge navigation watchkeeping alarm system (BNWAS) was not turned on.
  • The master was fatigued himself due to an accumulated sleep deficit and the fact that he was working on a two-watch system, which had likely contributed to the sleep deficit over a longer period of time
  • The master was under the influence of alcohol during his watch.
  • There was no lookout on the bridge during the transit.
  • A contributing cause to the lack of a lookout on the bridge was the vessel’s limited crew, in combination with the shipping company’s ISM providing inadequate support to the master, which had not been noted in the classification reviews of the shipping company and the vessel.

Advice from The Nautical Institute

  • A “dry” ship is a safer ship. Alcohol and ship work do not mix well.
  • A BNWAS can be a helpful tool to help prevent sleep related accidents.
  • Being alone on the bridge at night is not best practice.
  • Even though this vessel was manned according to its safe manning certificate, it was evidently understaffed for the job it was required to do in the time that was expected. So, why did the master leave port if everyone was fatigued?

Mars Reports

This accident was covered in the Mars Reports, originally published as Mars 202028, that are part of Report Number 331. A selection of this Report has also been published in SWZ|Maritime’s June 2020 issue. The Nautical Institute compiles these reports to help prevent maritime accidents. That is why they are also published on SWZ|Maritime’s website.

More reports are needed to keep the scheme interesting and informative. All reports are read only by the Mars coordinator and are treated in the strictest confidence. To submit a report, please use the Mars report form.

Author: Mariska Buitendijk

Mariska Buitendijk is one of SWZ|Maritime's journalists as well as the magazine's copy editor.