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Distracted Bridge Watch Officers Did Not Detect Approaching Vessel

Lack of Vigilance by Bridge Watch Officers Led to Failure in Detecting Approaching Vessel

According to the National Transportation Safety Board’s findings released on Tuesday, the bridge watch officers aboard a bulk carrier and an offshore supply vessel displayed inadequate situational awareness before the two vessels collided near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, last year.

On July 23, 2022, the bulk carrier Bunun Queen was navigating eastward in the Gulf of Mexico, while the offshore supply vessel Thunder was traveling northbound when the collision occurred. The Thunder suffered significant damage to its port side, resulting in the flooding of one propulsion room and three other spaces. Fortunately, no injuries or environmental pollution were reported. However, both vessels incurred extensive damages amounting to $12.3 million.

The collision took place under favorable conditions, with good visibility, daylight, and fair weather. Each vessel was equipped with automatic radar and plotting aid displays, as well as automatic identification system receivers, enabling them to detect the presence of the other vessel. However, in the critical moments leading up to the collision, neither of the watch officers on board maintained a proper lookout, whether through visual scanning or utilizing the available electronic systems to prevent a collision. Both officers admitted to being engaged in non-navigational tasks, with the Thunder’s master using his cell phone and the second officer on the Bunun Queen being occupied with other duties.

Bunun Queen The collision involved the Bunun Queen (left) and Thunder (right). (Source: Wisdom Marine International (left) and Jackson Offshore (right)). Under the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, it is explicitly mandated that “every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing, as well as by all available means appropriate.”

The NTSB investigation identified the primary cause of the collision as the distraction of the Bunun Queen officer, who was engaged in non-navigational tasks, and the Thunder officer, who was using a cell phone, thereby diverting their attention from maintaining a proper lookout. Additionally, the Thunder’s watch officer’s failure to adhere to the company’s watchkeeping policies was deemed a contributing factor to the incident.

The report highlighted the detrimental impact of cell phone use and other personal electronic devices, which have been proven to cause visual, manual, and cognitive distractions. Such nonoperational use of cell phones by on-duty crew members in safety-critical positions has been implicated in accidents across various modes of transportation. The report emphasized that the nonoperational use of cell phones should never impede the primary responsibility of watchstanders or bridge team members to maintain a vigilant lookout. Strict adherence to established protocols regarding cell phone use is of utmost importance for all personnel.