Helmsman’s wrong turn causes Canadian car ferry to run aground

A helmsman’s error caused the grounding of a car ferry upon departure from a Newfoundland terminal, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) said.

The 655-foot passenger/vehicle ferry Blue Puttees went off course while departing Port aux Basques on July 31. The vessel buried its bow into the town’s wharf, damaging a pump house.

The ship was bound for North Sydney, Nova Scotia, with 398 passengers and 91 crew aboard. Pierre Murray, the TSB’s manager of regional operation for the Atlantic region, told Professional Mariner that it was a helmsman’s error that led to the grounding.

“The master ordered 10 degrees port rudder and 50 percent ahead on the variable pitch propeller,” Murray explained. “The helmsman repeated the order correctly, but turned 10 degrees to starboard.”

The TSB investigation determined that after approximately 42 seconds, the master observed that the vessel’s heading line on the center starboard radar was altering to starboard and realized that the rudder order had been applied the wrong way.

The master applied full astern pitch, but the boat’s speed had already reached 9.6 knots. The vessel grounded before it could be stopped.

Blue Puttees sustained damage to the bulbous bow, and ballast tank No. 1 was holed. There were no injuries or pollution. The vessel was refloated during the next high tide and returned to the ferry dock for further assessment.

Blue Puttees, formerly called Stena Trader, was laid down at Russia’s Baltijsky Zavod Shipyards in 2004 and launched 2005. It was completed in 2006 at the Fosen Yards in Norway. The boat was in service as part of Stena Line between the Netherlands and United Kingdom from 2007 to 2009.

After a refit including the addition of a third bow thruster, it went into service for Marine Atlantic in 2011.

Blue Puttees is powered by two MAN 9L48/60B nine-cylinder diesel engines and has two auxiliary Mitsubishi diesel engines. It has two controllable pitch propellers and three bow thrusters.

In a statement, Marine Atlantic said it had initiated an internal investigation to determine the cause and is working toward preventing a similar incident in the future. Marine Atlantic received two letters from the TSB outlining the cause as well as recommendations for consideration.

“Marine Atlantic welcomes the findings and is now in the process of reviewing these recommendations to determine next steps,” the company wrote.

The TSB recommendations suggest Marine Atlantic conduct a review of bridge resource management, as well as its vessel speeds when entering and leaving port.

“Marine Atlantic has already started reviewing this information with each of our captains and making any necessary updates and improvements that may be required,” the company said. “We have also engaged the National Research Council, a highly skilled independent research organization based in St. John’s, to assist us in completing the necessary research regarding the speed at which to enter and exit port in each of our harbors.”

One individual has been disciplined in relation to the incident, the company reported.

“Marine Atlantic is committed to the safety of its operations and is reviewing the information provided to date and implementing changes to prevent a future occurrence,” the statement concluded.

Following repairs at a dry dock in Halifax, Blue Puttees returned to service Aug. 20.

By Professional Mariner Staff