Navigation inattention led to Newfoundland ferry striking bottom

A Newfoundland ferry went off course and struck a rock because of insufficient monitoring by the bridge team, investigators have determined.  

The 126-foot roll-on/roll-off passenger ferry Grace Sparkes struck bottom on Jan. 21, 2015. Operated by the Department of Transportation and Works (DTW) of Newfoundland and Labrador, Grace Sparkes was on a regular run from the island community of St. Brendan’s to the Newfoundland and Labrador community of Burnside when it ran aground on the approach to Burnside Harbor. 

The ferry, with eight crew and four passengers, was on a route that deviated to the east-southeast of the course line specified in the standard passage plan, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) report said. 

The TSB investigators determined that the master was steering the vessel and navigating, limiting his ability to use paper and electronic charts to monitor the vessel’s position in relation to the planned route.  

“Although the master navigated visually at night, the position of the vessel was not being cross-referenced by the bridge team using other navigational aids as was recommended by the company’s safety management manual,” the report said.

“Due to insufficient monitoring, the bridge team was unaware of the vessel’s position until it struck Burnside Rock,” the investigators wrote.

After the striking the rock, the ferry continued its voyage and docked at Burnside a few minutes later.

In addition to not cross-referencing navigational aids, the investigation found numerous other deficiencies in the vessel’s management, the report said. These included a delay in reporting the occurrence to the Canadian Coast Guard; a lack of crew training in bridge resource management; issues with the marine medical certification process for the master and assessing fitness for duty; and a lack of signage for lifesaving equipment. 

“Further, when the vessel struck the rock, the passengers and crewmembers were not properly informed,” the TSB concluded. Safety drills included only crewmembers and no passengers, and thus did not provide realistic training, the investigation said.

Investigators wrote that the master had undergone a marine medical examination in 2014. His examination form recorded several physical and mental health conditions, as well as the medications being taken to manage these conditions. A request by Transport Canada for supporting documentation was recorded for only one of these conditions, the TSB report said. 

Jacquelyn Howard, spokeswoman for DTW, told Professional Mariner in an email that the department welcomes the findings of the TSB and has taken action to address the issues identified. 

“Most notably, there has been communication with all vessels to reinforce procedures, particularly with monitoring and numbers of passengers,” Howard wrote. “An audit has been undertaken of all safety signage and announcements, and the requirements for safety drills and emergency preparedness have been reinforced both verbally and in writing with all marine crews and staff.”

DTW has sent chart-correction procedures to all vessels in the fleet, posted signage and arrows on board to indicate the location of the life jackets, posted location markings for the first aid kit, secured previously unsecured stowage containers in the passenger lounge, repaired the automated prerecorded announcement component of the public address system and installed two new searchlights on Grace Sparkes.

By Professional Mariner Staff