Boat Captain Didn’t Monitor Position Before Am. Samoa Grounding

Taiwan-based vessel still sits grounded off Nu‘uuli

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, May 16, 2016) – The captain’s failure to, among other things, monitor the position and progress of the fishing vessel SeaHawk #68, has been cited by federal investigators as the reason the Taiwan-based vessel ran aground off Coconut Point in Nu’uuli in May last year, according to a US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) marine accident brief.

Samoa News only learned of the report, publicly released by NTSB on Feb. 25th this year, when checking the NTSB database pertaining to an aviation accident which occurred in American Samoa about two years ago.

In a story late last month, Samoa News reported that the vessel remains stuck on the reef, and its owner cannot pay for its removal, as the company filed bankruptcy not long after the accident.

Samoa News understands that ASG is looking at federal agencies to help fund the removal of the SeaHawk, which Nu’uuli residents have called an eye-sore on their shoreline.

NTSB REPORT

While some crewmembers suffered minor injuries, the report says it was a total loss of the vessel and cargo valued at more than $500,000, but no pollution was reported. At the time of the incident, seas were about 10 feet.

It was around 5:30a.m., on May 22 last year that the vessel ran aground on the reef at the entrance to Pala Lagoon, according to the report, which also says that all crew members abandoned the vessel after the grounding, and boarded the vessel’s life raft, which then floated to shore.

The investigation report states that the vessel, which was "declared a constructive total loss" had been fishing in the waters of French Polynesia and was carrying 75 tons of tuna as it headed to Pago Pago to disembark the vessel’s engineer, who had reported experiencing a minor medical condition.

According to the report, NTSB has determined that the "probable cause" for the grounding of the SeaHawk No. 68 was the "captain’s failure to effectively monitor the vessel’s position and progress as well as provide specific watch standing instructions" to the crew.

Contributing to the accident, the report says, was "the owner/operator’s lack of policies and procedures for navigation and training of vessel crewmembers."

According to the report, the safety/lookout crewmembers stood watch in one-hour shifts, and watch-standers told investigators that they did not monitor the navigational equipment in the wheelhouse or in the chart room, or use binoculars or searchlights while on watch. They also stated that the radar was typically shut down at night, as was the case during the hours preceding the accident.

The report pointed out that safety/lookout crewmembers were not provided with written instructions or checklists for watch-standing, lifesaving, or emergency procedures. Consequently, they were also not provided with training in these areas. Additionally, no weather forecasts were received by the crew for the navigational period before the grounding.

At around 11p.m, on May 21, the vessel was about 27 miles east of Pago Pago Harbor and the captain planned to have the boat arrive in port at 8:30 a.m., the next day, because fishing vessels "do not typically arrive in Pago Pago Harbor at night — after normal business hours."

However, the captain didn’t provide the crew with written or oral instructions of his plan, and shut down the vessel’s engine. Also, the captain had not submitted an Advance Notice of Arrival form, as required by federal law for vessels arriving in US ports.

Around 1a.m. the next day, the captain started the engine again, without advising the safety/ lookout crewmembers, and then set the autopilot control so that the vessel would travel in a westerly direction to arrive at the harbor entrance about sunrise.

About 4a.m. the captain shifted the engine to idle so that the vessel would drift (likely because the vessel was closer to the harbor than anticipated) and then left the wheelhouse to attend to personal matters.

The watch-standers reported that they saw lights along the shoreline and the beacon from Pago Pago International Airport, but did not notify the captain that the vessel was approaching the shore.

At 5:20a.m. a crewmember noted that there was "panic" in the wheelhouse because a large wave came from behind, pushing the vessel forward, toward the reef. The captain returned to the wheelhouse and attempted to put the engine astern, but the vessel grounded on the reef. The vessel rolled to its port side, and the crew decided to abandon the vessel by moving into an inflatable life raft.

According to the report, the captain had seven years experience as a vessel captain and had worked aboard the SeaHawk for 11 months, while the engineer had about 18 years of experience at sea and had worked for 11 months on the SeaHawk.

The captain, engineer, and the watch-standers who were on duty before and at the time of the accident underwent post accident drug and alcohol testing. The results were negative.

EQUIPMENT DISCREPANCIES

During the accident investigation, Coast Guard investigators discovered safety equipment discrepancies on the SeaHawk No. 68. For example, the battery of the vessel’s emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) expired in July 2011. Further, the captain was the only crewmember who knew how to operate the EPIRB and the battery enables the EPIRB to transmit a coded message via satellite to facilitate search and rescue in an emergency.

Another discrepancy was that the vessel’s Inspection Certificate issued in February last year indicated the vessel was equipped with safety equipment for 21 persons. However, the vessel was carrying 22 persons at the time of the accident and was therefore not in compliance with the certificate.

Other deficiencies found: personal floating devices stored in a locked storage box without the key nearby; life rafts secured to their cradles with several lines instead of a hydrostatic-release device; and life rings that were faded, cracked, and deteriorated.

According to the report, NTSB does not assign fault or blame for a marine casualty; rather, its investigations are fact-finding proceedings and are not conducted for the purpose of determining the rights or liabilities of any person.

NTSB says its investigators worked closely with their Coast Guard counterparts, and the NTSB investigators did not travel to American Samoa for this case.

The Samoa News
Copyright © 2016. The Samoa News. All Rights Reserved

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Add new comment