Lack of communication cited in fatal Texas tanker collision By Michael Joe

The fishing vessel Pappy’s Pride, shown in red, cut in front of the tanker Bow Fortune, in blue, in dense fog.
The fishing vessel Pappy’s Pride, shown in red, cut in front of the tanker Bow Fortune, in blue, in dense fog.
The fishing vessel Pappy’s Pride, shown in red, cut in front of the tanker Bow Fortune, in blue, in dense fog.

A fatal collision in dense fog between a tanker and a commercial fishing vessel near Galveston, Texas, was caused by the fishing vessel’s imprudent course and lack of communication, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said. 

The shrimp trawler Pappy’s Pride overturned and sank in the Outer Bar Channel after colliding with Bow Fortune at 1537 on Jan. 14, 2020. The bodies of the captain and two deck hands were recovered. A third deck hand was rescued but suffered serious injuries.

Despite visibility of less than a quarter-mile, Pappy’s Pride did not sound fog signals as required, nor did it respond to three radio calls from Bow Fortune before the incident, an NTSB accident report said. 

“Communication, especially in limited visibility, is a vital part of standing an effective watch,” the report said. “In addition, the Pappy’s Pride’s outbound course created a close-quarters situation that resulted in the collision. The course was, therefore, not prudent, and the lack of communication from the fishing vessel created doubt as to the Pappy’s Pride captain’s intentions.”

The outbound Pappy’s Pride was east and north of the channel’s inbound barge lane after leaving port about two hours earlier from the Port of Galveston. The 82-foot trawler was heading toward the channel at a shallow angle, on a predicted path to cross the channel ahead of the inbound Bow Fortune. 

About two minutes before the accident, Bow Fortune hailed Pappy’s Pride on two separate radio channels without a response. Twelve seconds after the first radio call, Pappy’s Pride changed course to port about 19 degrees, which showed the captain was actively steering.

The trawler remained on a course to cross the channel ahead of the 601-foot Bow Fortune, whose pilot from the Galveston-Texas City Pilots had ordered a turn to starboard to move the tanker out of the channel and away from the trawler. The pilot also reduced the ship’s speed to half ahead.

About a minute before the collision, the vessels were about a half-mile apart when Bow Fortune sounded a danger signal. The pilot ordered slow ahead and hailed Pappy’s Pride a third time, with no response. The pilot then ordered evasive maneuvers and sounded a second danger signal about 22 seconds before contact. 

The surviving deck hand on Pappy’s Pride told investigators he and another deck hand “were surprised” by Bow Fortune’s first danger signal. When he heard the second signal, he recalled looking up to see “this ship coming out of the fog.”

Data showed that nine seconds after the Bow Fortune’s second danger signal, Pappy’s Pride turned to port 15 degrees. But the NTSB said that if that turn had been to avert a collision, then the turn should have been to starboard under international rules for preventing collisions (COLREGS). 

If Pappy’s Pride had not made that last turn to port, the report said, “the vessels may have scraped port sides or avoided contact.”  

Bow Fortune’s speed was 11 knots when the port side of its bulbous bow struck the starboard side of Pappy’s Pride, which was moving at 8.4 knots.

The NTSB said the Pappy’s Pride captain did not effectively use multiple navigation tools. Those tools including two automatic radar plotting aid units (ARPAs) and navigation plotting software able to show the vessels’ automatic identification system (AIS) information on an electronic chart, which would have also shown their GPS positions and vectors.

But because the captain did not respond to Bow Fortune’s radio calls, investigators do not know why he did not slow down or “take substantial action” to avoid crossing in front of the tanker.

“It is possible the captain was away from the conn, was distracted, fell asleep, was unsure of what action to take, or was otherwise unable to respond to the developing situation,” the report said.

Three weeks before the incident, the report said, the 56-year-old captain was admitted to the hospital for a minor stroke. Three days later, it said, he was discharged when his symptoms improved, but the source of the stroke was not determined. A shrimp boat fisherman his entire adult life, he had worked for seven years as Pappy’s Pride captain and made six to eight voyages a year. 

“The captain’s failure to slow his engine speed or respond to the Bow Fortune’s communications and his own ARPA information may have been due to a medical event,” the report said. “Although the captain’s recent stroke could indicate higher risk for a recurrent stroke, the limited autopsy could not be used to determine if a medical event occurred.” 

The pilot’s autopsy was limited to an external examination, the report said.

Pappy’s Pride, owned by Master Jimbo Inc., was a total loss valued at $575,000. A company officer, James Ryan Jr., said, “We have a couple of issues with the (NTSB) report.” But he declined to comment further due to pending litigation.

The Norwegian-flagged Bow Fortune had negligible damage. The owner, Odfjell SE of Bergen, Norway, specializes in transporting chemicals worldwide. 

“We appreciate the thorough investigation that the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has performed of the course of events leading to the collision,” Odfjell SE chief operating officer Harald Fotland said in an email statement. “We are in agreement with its conclusions regarding the probable cause of this tragic event. Due to pending litigation, we must respectfully decline to comment further at this time.”

Galveston-Texas City Pilots did not respond to a request for comment.