Improper lookout cited in open-water collision near Long Island


Federal investigators determined crew aboard both vessels that collided last year in open water south of Long Island, N.Y., contributed to the incident that caused more than $700,000 in damage.

The tanker Tofteviken and shrimper Polaris collided May 12, 2018, at 1913 in the Atlantic Ocean 30 miles south of Montauk, N.Y., in calm weather and 10 miles of visibility. Polaris was traveling north-northeast toward New Bedford, Mass., and Tofteviken was headed west toward the Ambrose Anchorage near New York City.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the mate aboard the shrimper was cleaning the wheelhouse in the time preceding the collision and occasionally checking his surroundings. The tanker’s third mate missed ample opportunity to change course and never alerted the master about the developing close-quarters situation, investigators said. Neither mariner hailed the other vessel over radio.

“(The) probable cause of the collision … was the failure to maintain a proper lookout by the mate on the fishing vessel, and the failure to identify the risk of collision by the third mate on the tanker,” the NTSB said in its report.

The 91-foot Polaris, owned by O’Hara Corp. of Rockland, Maine, had reached its scallop quota and was heading back to its New Bedford base. The mate was alone in the wheelhouse at the time of the incident, with the autopilot set and the shrimper making 10 knots. It was apparently common practice to clean the vessel before arrival, thus saving time at the dock.

The 820-foot Tofteviken, registered in the Bahamas and operated by Wallem Ship Management, was en route from Nova Scotia to Linden, N.J., with a cargo of crude oil. The third mate on watch first noticed Polaris on radar at about 1855 when the shrimper was eight miles away. A few minutes later, she asked an AB on duty to come to the bridge to serve as a lookout.

NTSB/Pat Rossi illustration

Tofteviken’s third mate, and later the AB, believed the fishing vessel changed its heading to starboard to safely pass behind the tanker. However, the third mate never acquired Polaris on the ship’s automatic radar and plotting aid, which would have given her the closest point of approach and other details. Investigators later determined Polaris maintained a steady heading during this time and never turned to starboard.

The third mate and AB continued to monitor Polaris as the two vessels moved closer together. About 12 minutes after the first radar sighting, Polaris was 1.8 miles off the tanker’s port side and closing. Tofteviken’s master and mate were in the wheelhouse handling other tasks and were not notified about Polaris until the chief engineer entered the room. Tofteviken was making about 12 knots.

The engineer “noticed the Polaris at close range on the port bow and shouted to the third mate, ‘What are you doing?’” the report said. “Upon hearing the chief engineer, the master stood up from the computer, went forward where he saw the Polaris, and immediately ordered hand steering and hard to starboard. He also directed the second officer to sound the ship’s whistle.”

The mate aboard Polaris was oblivious to the unfolding situation as he polished levers on the aft-facing control station. He last looked out the windows and checked the radar about 15 minutes before the collision, and he didn’t recall when he last checked the automatic identification system (AIS).

He heard a “bing” as Polaris’ port-side outrigger hit the tanker’s hull. He then recalled seeing a “wall of green” in front of the shrimper. “The mate attempted to turn the vessel to starboard, but it was too late; the bow of the Polaris struck the port side of the tanker,” the NTSB said.

Under international collision avoidance rules, Polaris was the “give way” vessel as the tanker and shrimper approached one another. That means it was required to take early, obvious action to avoid the collision, the report noted. When it did not take the appropriate action, it then fell to the stand-on vessel, Tofteviken, to avoid a collision.

“However, despite the fishing vessel’s constant bearing and decreasing range, the third mate took no action,” the NTSB said. “At a minimum, the third mate could have attempted to contact the fishing vessel, either by VHF radio to ask their intentions, or by sounding a signal to warn the Polaris of their proximity.”

Investigators also found that the third mate on Tofteviken did not follow standing orders to notify the master if any vessel comes within two nautical miles. “(Had) she followed the master’s standing orders,” the report said, “this accident could have been avoided.”

Polaris required repairs to an outrigger as well as its main deck and bow, which crumpled in the collision. The outrigger opened a 40-foot gash in Tofteviken’s port side above the waterline and below deck. Total property damage from the collision was $716,047. No injuries or pollution were reported.

Neither O’Hara Corp. nor Wallem Ship Management responded to emails seeking comment.

By Professional Mariner Staff