Captain’s Failure To Maintain A Vigilant Watch Led To Collision


On April 18, 2017, while transiting in the Panama Canal, the tugboat Cerro Santiago collided with the US Coast Guard cutter Tampa in Miraflores Lake, Panama, reports NTSB.

Damages to Stern

Although the tugboat was not damaged, the cutter sustained $170,018 in damage to the stern as well as to various systems in the steering gear room.

There were no causalities reported, nor was any pollution.

The Stage Setting

After conducting operations in the Pacific Ocean, the cutter Tampa was to transit northbound in the Panama Canal on its way to the Atlantic Ocean.

At 2118 the Panama Canal pilot arrived onboard and the cutter got underway a few minutes later.

Under the rules and regulations of the Panama Canal Authority, a pilot on board a vessel assumes control of the navigation, rather than serving in an advisory capacity as compulsory state pilots do in the United States.

Vessel traffic in the canal is managed by the ACP’s Marine Traffic Control Center, whose efforts contribute to the prevention of collisions similar to Vessel Traffic Service in the United States.

The tug Cerro Santiago was assigned to assist a southbound tanker through the Pedro Miguel and the Miraflores Locks located on each end of the Miraflores Lake.

At 0015 the Cerro Santiago entered the lake after departing the Pedro Miguel Locks and positioned herself ahead of the tanker (making 3.4 knots).

A Sudden Collision

About the same time, the Tampa entered the lake after exiting the Miraflores Locks, following a northbound containership making 1.4 knots. The vessels met in the middle of the lake.

After initially passing safely down the starboard side of the Tampa, the Cerro Santiago suddenly rotated to starboard and began heading towards the Tampa. At 0029, the Cerro Santiago struck the cutter’s starboard stern.

An Overworked Master

No navigation or engineering issues were identified with either vessel and the Cerro Santiago master later admitted to falling asleep due to fatigue.

On the night of the accident, after completing his seventh consecutive 8-hour workday (at midnight), the master was still operating the Cerro Santiago, on overtime, while awaiting his relief to arrive when the collision occurred about 8.5 hours into his watch.

Probable Cause

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the collision between the tugboat Cerro Santiago and the US Coast Guard cutter Tampa was the failure of the master of the Cerro Santiago to maintain a vigilant watch due to fatigue.

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Source: NTSB


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