Captain’s assumption, poor communication cited in Sabine Pass collision

(WASHINGTON) — The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that a captain’s assumption and poor communication led to a collision between an offshore supply vessel (OSV) and a U.S. Coast Guard cutter in Sabine Pass, a waterway between Texas and Louisiana.

The NTSB on Thursday released its report detailing its investigation into the Oct. 11, 2020 collision between the offshore supply vessel Cheramie Bo-Truc No. 33 and the Coast Guard cutter Harry Claiborne. Cheramie Bo-Truc No. 33 was traveling outbound for sea in Sabine Pass when it collided with Harry Claiborne near Texas Point, Texas.

U.S. Coast Guard photo

Cheramie Bo-Truc No. 33 subsequently ran aground. The crew attempted to refloat the vessel, and as it broke free, the current set the offshore supply vessel into the stationary cutter, resulting in a second impact. Three crewmembers aboard Harry Claiborne suffered minor injuries. Damage to the two vessels totaled $505,951, including $440,879 in damage to Harry Claiborne and $65,072 in damage to Cheramie Bo-Truc No. 33.

Two days prior to the collision, Hurricane Delta impacted the area and caused several buoys in Sabine Pass to move from their assigned locations. At the time of the collision, Harry Claiborne was servicing buoys impacted by the hurricane.

The captain of Cheramie Bo-Truc No. 33 called Harry Claiborne by VHF radio requesting to overtake the cutter on the cutter’s starboard side. The captain told investigators that he “didn’t realize that the buoy was on location” and thereby assumed the cutter was servicing a buoy that had moved into the channel. As Cheramie Bo-Truc No. 33 was attempting to overtake the cutter, the depth sounder quickly dropped, and the captain aborted his attempt to pass in an effort to avoid running aground. Despite the captain’s efforts, Cheramie Bo-Truc No. 33 collided with the cutter. The offshore supply vessel then grounded in the mud alongside the channel.

The crew of Cheramie Bo-Truc No. 33 informed the Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) of their plans to refloat the vessel and get underway; however, they did not communicate their plans to the crew of Harry Claiborne. The crew worked for 45 minutes to get the vessel out of the mud. As they attempted to maneuver around the cutter’s stern, Cheramie Bo-Truc No. 33’s starboard bow struck Harry Claiborne’s starboard quarter.

The NTSB determined the probable cause of the initial collision was the OSV captain’s assumption of the stationary cutter’s position, which led to his decision to pass the vessel outside the channel, resulting in a late maneuver toward Harry Claiborne to avoid running aground. Contributing to the collision was the cutter crew not questioning the passing arrangement proposed by the OSV captain. Causing a second impact was the lack of coordination and communication between the two vessel operators when Cheramie Bo-Truc No. 33’s crew refloated their vessel.

– National Transportation Safety Board

By Rich Miller