3rd mate in charge of grounded cruise
ship had very little experience, NTSB finds

The junior third mate who was conning a cruise ship that ran aground in Alaska last year was a recent maritime academy graduate with little practical experience on the vessel or knowledge of the waters in which it was operating.

The 360-foot coastal cruise ship Empress of the North, owned by Majestic America Line, grounded on a rocky shoal in Chatham Strait, Alaska, on May 14, 2007. The ship struck a submerged part of Hanus Reef, a charted rock called Rocky Island.

The NTSB issued its findings of fact on Dec. 22, 2007. Among the documents released were transcripts of interviews with the vessel’s crew, vessel recorder data, weather data, ship documents and correspondence with equipment vendors and the Coast Guard.

While no conclusions or analyses were included, the findings revealed that the junior third mate left in charge of the bridge on the night of the grounding was a new hire for the company standing his first watch in which he was responsible for navigating the vessel.

The junior third mate had only been employed by the company five days and first boarded the ship three days before the accident, according to the NTSB. He told the NTSB’s investigators that he was not familiar with the waters and had only been there as a passenger on a cruise ship. He said that he was unfamiliar with the electronic chartplotter and its operation, that he was never briefed on the route by the captain and that he had been on the bridge of Empress of the North but “never really got a specific walk-through [of the bridge] … I never actually got on any equipment.”

On the day of the grounding, the junior third mate was standing the 0000-0400 watch, replacing the senior third mate who was ill. The decision to assign the junior third mate to the watch was made by the captain and supported by the chief mate and second mate. An experienced AB who knew the waters and was familiar with the bridge equipment was also on watch. The chief mate said that there was no discussion with the captain regarding familiarizing the junior third mate with the route.

Before the accident, the junior third mate and the AB confirmed their course and that they would be making a turn as they passed between Rocky Island and Point Couverden. As the AB initiated the turn, the AB told the junior third mate that he did not think that the rate of turn was fast enough and he increased it as the mate watched. According to the NTSB, “The mate was looking for the flashing green light on Rocky Island that he had seen earlier but he was unable to see it. He saw rocks and he immediately gave the AB a hard left command. The vessel struck on the starboard side below the waterline.”

By Professional Mariner Staff