Overreliance on outdated chart cited in Alaska pier strike

The 961-foot Radiance of the Seas is the lead ship of Royal Caribbean’s four-vessel Radiance Class of cruise liners.
The 961-foot Radiance of the Seas is the lead ship of Royal Caribbean’s four-vessel Radiance Class of cruise liners.
The 961-foot Radiance of the Seas is the lead ship of Royal Caribbean’s four-vessel Radiance Class of cruise liners.

The master aboard the cruise ship Radiance of the Seas spun the ship 180 degrees and backed it toward the terminal in Sitka, Ak. As the ship inched into position, its starboard quarter struck a mooring dolphin on a newly extended pier. 

Miscommunication between the liner’s master and bosun was cited as the cause of the Radiance of the Seas’ allision with the Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal dolphin.
Miscommunication between the liner’s master and bosun was cited as the cause of the Radiance of the Seas’ allision with the Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal dolphin.

The incident happened at about 7:27 a.m. on May 9, 2022, under clear skies and light winds. Although the ship sustained minimal damage, the mooring dolphin at the Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal facility required more than $2 million in repairs. 

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators determined a 395-foot pier extension completed in 2021 did not appear on the ship’s navigational charts. Port officials, the NTSB said, did not communicate the change to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to update its charts.

Still, the leading cause of the incident, the NTSB said, was the master’s overreliance on the electronic navigation chart (ENC) appearing on the electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS). The master also misunderstood clearance distances reported by a crewmember over radio as the ship approached the terminal. 

“The radar scanner and camera could have been used by the bridge team to show objects — in this case, the pier and mooring dolphins astern of the vessel, but the bridge team did not use these tools,” the agency stated in its report. 

“Instead, they relied solely on the ECDIS, which showed an inaccurate ENC,” the report continued. “Had the bridge team effectively used the technologies available to them to complete the turn and mooring maneuver, the casualty likely could have been prevented.”

The agency found that the failure by the Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal to report the pier extension to NOAA or another hydrographic authority was a contributing factor in the incident. 

The Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal received approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in April 2020 to extend its pier by 395 feet to north. The project also included construction of two new mooring dolphins, each with four piles. Upon completion, the pier was 1,390 feet long. 

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is responsible for maintaining and correcting navigation charts used by mariners. The ENC used by crew aboard Radiance of the Seas did not include the new, longer pier section. 

“NOAA had no record of the construction completed on the Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal pier until after the casualty, when investigators informed them of the pier’s extension,” the report said. “NOAA staff told investigators that they would have updated the chart if they had been informed. They also stated that it is the responsibility of facility owners to inform them when permitted construction is complete.”

City of Sitka officials did not respond to an inquiry from Professional Mariner seeking comment on the NTSB findings. The report indicated terminal officials reported the new pier length to Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. It is unclear what steps it took to share that information with the crew. 

Royal Caribbean did not respond to an inquiry about the NTSB findings. 

The 961-foot, Bahamas-flagged Radiance of the Seas got underway on May 8 from Ketchikan, in Southeast Alaska, with 782 crewmembers, 1,375 passengers. The ship also had four pilots from the Southeast Alaska Pilots Association. 

The vessel entered Sitka Sound about 5:30 a.m. on May 9, and at about 6:45 a.m. the officers on watch held a pre-arrival briefing. The ship was to rotate 180 degrees and then back into the east berth on the inboard side. Another cruise ship would dock later on the outboard side of the terminal.   

The ship’s master took the conn at 7:19 a.m. The ship was about a half-mile from the northernmost end of the pier making about 6.8 knots at the time. Two minutes later, the master began to rotate the ship in order to back into position with its port side to the terminal. 

Multiple personnel were involved with the docking procedure. According to the report, the first officer was at the forward console to monitor the ECDIS while a second officer was at another console at the back of the bridge. A helmsman and lookout also were present, and the bosun was at the stern calling out distances to the pier over handheld radio. 

“Throughout the maneuver, the master relied on the bosun’s distance callouts via radio and the ECDIS display on the bridgewing to identify the vessel’s position relative to the pier,” the report said.

Seven minutes after the ship’s master took the conn, based on callouts from the bosun, the ship was only 184 feet from the dolphin. Some 30 seconds later, the ship was within 115 feet and closing. The master heard these reports but misunderstood what they meant. 

“The master stated that he believed the bosun was reporting the vessel’s swinging clearance – the amount the ship would clear the dolphin,” the NTSB determined. “However, the bosun stated that he was reporting the estimated distance from his position on the stern to the mooring dolphin.”

Radiance of the Seas struck the northernmost dolphin at 7:27 p.m. on its starboard side aft of the quarter. Three of four pilings supporting the dolphin were damaged. The ship itself sustained only paint damage and continued to its next port following a damage assessment. 

Sitka officials, the report said, shared details of the new pier segment with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines before the incident. Radiance of the Seas crewmembers said they were unaware of the extension despite having docked in Sitka a week before – albeit in a different berth with a different docking evolution. 

Regardless, the report suggested crew should have recognized the pier infrastructure on their radar, even if it was not on the ENC. 

“During the vessel’s approach, the main radar image overlay did not match the ENC on the ECDIS – the radar showed the pier extending beyond its location on the ENC,” the report said. “The fact that the charted pier did not match the radar return overlay on the ECDIS should have raised concern amongst the bridge team regarding their planned turn point. 

“However,” the report continued, “no one on the bridge team reported the discrepancy to the master, who was conning the vessel, indicating they either were not using the radar or were not paying attention to the radar returns.”

The miscommunication between the master and bosun as the vessel approached the pier, the NTSB said, indicated a problem with the pre-arrival briefing. 

According to the agency’s investigating team, the briefing was incomplete or unclear on the specific information the bosun was to convey as the ship approached the terminal.