NTSB published its investigation report on the bulk carrier Ocean Princess, which, with a crew of 24, struck the uncrewed/out-of-service oil and gas production platform SP-83A while operating in the Gulf of Mexico, 24 miles south of Pilottown, Louisiana.
On December 28, 2020, the Ocean Princess arrived at the Harmony Street Wharf in New Orleans, Louisiana, with a cargo of steel and magnesium ore. According to the master, the plan was to discharge cargo for several days and then transit to the Gulf of Mexico, drift overnight, and return to New Orleans to load a cargo of grain. While drifting overnight, crewmembers would clean the cargo holds to prepare for the grain.
On January 6, 2021, after completing cargo discharge, the Ocean Princess got under way at 0722 with a pilot from the Crescent River Port Pilots’ Association at the conn (operational control of the vessel). After about a 6-hour transit downriver, an Associated Branch pilot boarded the vessel and assumed the conn from the Crescent River Pilot, who then departed the vessel via pilot launch. At 1506 the Associated Branch pilot departed the vessel at the pilot station, and the master assumed the conn as he directed the vessel during its transit to an area where the vessel would drift overnight, arriving about 1630. The engine was stopped, the master turned over the conn to the mate on watch (the chief officer), the engineering watch was instructed to have the engine ready for maneuvering within 15 minutes, and the master then left the bridge to rest.
The area where the vessel drifted bordered safety fairways to the north and west. There were three platforms in the drift area: two about 11 miles east-southeast of the intersection of the safety fairways, and SP-83A to the north. According to the master’s written night orders, the plan was to drift throughout the night with the engine on 15-minute standby, keeping clear of traffic and platforms. The night orders directed that, when approaching traffic or platforms, the mate on watch should call the engine room to make the engine ready to answer all bells and maneuver the vessel as necessary to avoid them. The crew had stopped cleaning cargo holds about 2000, and they would resume cleaning in the morning, then return to New Orleans as planned to load grain.
To give the crewmembers rest time after cleaning cargo holds during the day, the master scheduled himself to be on the bridge with the mate on watch, supplementing the watch and the duties of the lookout, from 2000 January 6 to 0400 January 7. The vessel had been drifting to the northwest since 1630 when, about 2108, the mate on watch called the engine room to ready the engine. Shortly thereafter (it took about 7 minutes to prepare the engine room) the vessel motored away from the western fairway with the master at the conn. At 2212, the engine was stopped, and the vessel again began to drift. According to the master, visibility was variable (2-3 miles in heavy rain and 5-6 miles in light rain).
At 2355, the second officer relieved the third officer as the mate on watch, with the vessel drifting to the north in alternating heavy and light rain showers. The master and the second officer used the S-band/10-cm radar and the electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS) for contact detection. The X-band/3-cm radar was energized but in standby mode. The second officer said he was focused on short-range contacts and may have reduced the radar’s range from the 3-mile range to the 1.5-mile range.
About 0100, the second officer informed the master that the vessel was approaching the safety fairway and then called the engine room to prepare for maneuvering. The second officer did not plot a 0100 fix on the paper chart but logged the vessel’s position in the GPS logbook. About 10 minutes later, the master took the conn. The second officer was on the engine order telegraph, and the master was operating the helm. According to the vessel’s S-VDR data, about 0112 the rudder moved to 30° starboard. At 0113, the master ordered the engine to dead slow ahead; the master said he was coming to a course of 125° to steer clear of the fairway. At the same time, the master stated he saw a dim yellow light, so he checked the radar.
Not seeing any contacts, he checked the ECDIS and thought the light was from an oil platform 5-6 miles away, roughly on the same bearing. The second officer used binoculars to investigate and saw a light, but he could not tell how far it was from the vessel. The second officer later told investigators that he did not check the radar after seeing the light; he looked at the ECDIS and thought the light was a contact 5 miles away. The S-VDR captured the master asking, “Is that a ship?” The second officer responded, “Should be a platform.” At 0116, the engine was increased to slow ahead.
At 0121, the engine was increased to half ahead. At 0121:25, the S-VDR captured the master stating, “It’s getting closer.” The master later told investigators that when he saw multiple flashing lights, he realized there was something close to the vessel off the bow. The master ran out to the starboard bridgewing. At 0122:00, the master ordered the rudder hard to starboard and the engine full ahead. At 0122:10, the Ocean Princess’s starboard bow struck platform SP-83A at 4 knots speed over ground. The S-VDR captured the master saying, “Had a collision” at 0122:23.
The master ordered the rudder midships, stopped the engine, and sounded the emergency alarm. He told the chief officer via handheld radio to go to the bow and sound the tanks for flooding. After energizing a floodlight and pointing it forward, at 0127, the crew identified the object struck by the Ocean Princess as a platform (SP-83A). From 0128 to 0232, using various rudder orders and speeds, the master tried to steer away from SP-83A, but the vessel instead swung around the platform.
When the vessel struck the platform, the anchor flukes and the anchor windlass were both affected. The starboard anchor became caught in the platform upon contact. Because the starboard anchor was on the brake rather than secured for sea, once it became entangled with the platform, the chain was pulled out as the vessel attempted to maneuver away from the platform.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the contact of the dry bulk carrier Ocean Princess with the oil and gas production platform SP-83A was poor bridge resource management, which resulted in the bridge team not identifying the platform and recognizing the risk it posed to their safe navigation even though they saw its lights about 10 minutes before the casualty.
Contributing was platform SP-83A not being shown on the vessel’s electronic chart display and information system due to a charting error.
The effective use of all available resources by a bridge team, including paper charts, electronic charts, and radars, increases collective situational awareness and contributes to a safe navigation watch. When identifying hazards, bridge teams should avoid overreliance on a single data source by cross-checking information with available bridge resources and communicating identified risks with fellow watchstanders to ensure a shared mental model.
Increasing operator vigilance and combatting overreliance requires healthy skepticism about situations and information sources regardless of how accurate they could be, or how confident one is in their own assessment. In this casualty, the electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS) was missing the oil platform struck by the vessel due to a charting error.
The vessel’s safety management system noted, “ECDIS is a valuable asset in assisting navigators and allowing them more time to maintain a proper lookout by providing them with more detailed situational awareness.”
However, it also warned, “navigators should always cross check ECDIS information with the other sources,” and, if not used properly, “ECDIS may contribute to accidents rather than preventing them.” The inability to recognize the fallibility of technology, such as an ECDIS, can result in operator overreliance and overconfidence that degrades sound navigation practices and negatively affects situational awareness.
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