Top 3 Safety Check After an Unmanned Bridge and a Drunken Master Resulted in Vessel Grounding



On 10 October 2017, the Netherlands registered general cargo vessel Ruyter ran aground on the north shore of Rathlin Island, UK. There were no resulting injuries or pollution.

Ruyter’s bow shell plating and frames were damaged by the grounding, which resulted in flooding of the bow thruster space and forward voids. At 0022 the following day, the vessel was refloated without assistance and, after inspection at Carlingford Lough, proceeded to Belfast for temporary repairs.

The investigation found that Ruyter grounded because no action had been taken to correct a deviation from the ship’s planned track. The master, who was the sole watchkeeper, had left the bridge, and the bridge navigational watch alarm system, which could have alerted the chief officer to the fact that the bridge was unmanned, had been switched off.

The master had been consuming alcohol before taking over the watch, contrary to the company’s policy. The chief officer had previously been concerned over the master’s regular excessive consumption of alcohol, but at the watch handover had been satisfied that the master was fit to take the watch.

The ship’s manager, VD Innovation BV, has since taken action, including the introduction of random alcohol testing and the empowerment of its crews to alert any concerns they may have to the company.


After discharging cargo at Warrenpoint, Ruyter proceeded to Belfast dry dock, where a full inspection revealed extensive structural damage throughout the forward third of the hull with 26 penetrations in three compartments. There was also damage to the shaft generator, as a result of the fire that occurred while on passage to Carlingford Lough, that was caused by misalignment of the shaft during or following the grounding.

Safety lessons

  • when the sole watchkeeper left the bridge unattended and the bridge navigational watch alarm was turned off, there was no means to alert the chief officer to the fact that the bridge was unmanned
  • the consumption of alcohol prior to taking over the watch had an adverse effect on the master’s ability to maintain a safe navigational watch
  • although the chief officer had concerns about the master’s excessive alcohol consumption, he did not feel sufficiently empowered to raise the matter with the company

Action Taken

VD Innovation BV has since taken action, including the introduction of random alcohol testing and the empowerment of its crews to notify the company whenever there are concerns relating to the safe operation of their vessels.


  1. Ruyter’s master left the bridge unattended.
  2. The extent of the company’s oversight of the master’s performance on board had been insufficient to identify and address his routine consumption of alcohol.
  3. Random alcohol testing did not form part of the company’s alcohol policy and there was no formal process in place which the chief officer could have used to raise awareness of the master’s inappropriate behaviour.
  4. The chief officer did not feel sufficiently certain of the master’s impairment through alcohol consumption, or sufficiently empowered, to raise the matter with the company.
  5. By not posting a lookout at night and leaving the BNWAS switched off, Ruyter’s watchkeepers had actively disabled the crucial alarms and defences that were intended as barriers to help prevent an accident. Further, as there had been no negative consequence or challenges to these decisions, this had become the normal routine on board.


In view of the actions taken, no recommendations are made in this report.

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Source: MAIB


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