NTSB: Captains failed to ‘properly determine risk’ of Gulf collision

Federal investigators cited the actions of both operators in a collision between a lift boat and crew boat in the Gulf of Mexico.

The 121-foot crew boat Diamond Edge and the 61-foot B.W. Haley, a lift boat-configured offshore supply vessel, collided in open water at 1027 on March 2, 2015, roughly 5 nm south of Freshwater City, La. The incident, which occurred in dense fog, caused $117,000 in damage to B.W. Haley and $1.75 million in damage to Diamond Edge. No injuries or pollution were reported.

Authorities determined neither captain performed long-range radar scanning prior to the incident to search for other nearby vessels, despite collision regulations requiring it. They also cited Diamond Edge’s failure to slow down as fog worsened.

“The probable cause of the collision between the B.W. Haley and Diamond Edge was the failure of both operators to properly determine the risk of collision and the excessive speed of the Diamond Edge in restricted visibility,” the report said.

At the time of the accident, Diamond Edge was owned by Jewel Marine of Cut Off, La. In a prepared statement, the company said it strongly disagreed with the NTSB’s findings. The firm said federal investigators failed to consider key details, and it downplayed the role speed had in the accident.

The company also criticized Halliburton Energy Services of Houston for failing to outfit B.W. Haley with an automatic identification system (AIS) unit, which meant the boat did not appear on other vessels’ AIS. At the time, the 61-foot vessel was not required to carry one.

“It was irresponsible for a multibillion-dollar company like Halliburton to not provide a vessel with invaluable navigational equipment such as AIS when a unit can be purchased and installed for just a few thousand dollars,” the statement read.

Halliburton declined to comment on the NTSB findings or Jewel Marine’s statements.

On the morning of the incident, the 68-passenger Diamond Edge was northbound to Freshwater City from an offshore oil platform with four crewmembers. The vessel, with a maximum speed of 21 knots, was traveling at about 14 knots. B.W. Haley was traveling east to Marsh Island, La., for a flow line repair project.

Shortly before the collision, Diamond Edge’s captain arranged safe passage over VHF radio with the southbound OSV Elliot Cheramie. At about this time, Elliot Cheramie’s captain noticed a radar contact “coming in and out” that he believed was caused by birds, the NTSB report said.

However, Elliot Cheramie’s captain steered his vessel hard to port after determining the radar contact, later believed to be B.W. Haley, was traveling east. He never saw the lift boat as they passed in 15-foot visibility.

Diamond Edge’s captain also noticed a contact show up intermittently on radar. The vessel had two radar displays set to 0.75 miles and 1.5 miles. However, he did not zoom out on the radar to periodically check for nearby vessels.

The captain aboard B.W. Haley set his radar for 0.75 miles but said he never saw Diamond Edge approaching. He also admitted failing to perform long-range scanning on the radar, the report said.

B.W. Haley’s captain announced his presence over radio while approaching the Freshwater Bayou Safety Fairway. He made another call upon entering the fairway and reported he was blowing the foghorn every two or three minutes because of the density of the fog. Diamond Edge’s captain responded to B.W. Haley’s radio call but did not receive a reply, the report said.

Crew aboard B.W. Haley spotted Diamond Edge at about 1025, two minutes before the collision. B.W. Haley’s crew told investigators a lift leg on the corner of the vessel obscured their view from the direction Diamond Edge was approaching. After spotting the vessel, B.W. Haley’s captain placed the engines in full astern, quickly stopping the boat.

By the time Diamond Edge’s crew spotted the lift boat, it was just 60 feet away. Instead of immediately putting the crew boat in reverse when he saw the oncoming boat, a move the Diamond Edge captain feared would stall the engines, he turned to port in an attempt to clear the crossing boat.

These efforts were not enough, and Diamond Edge’s aft port side struck the lift boat’s starboard bow and leg mat. The impact spun the lift boat around, while the crew boat sustained a hull breach and took on water. B.W. Haley picked up Diamond Edge’s four crewmen and brought them to shore. Diamond Edge later partially sank.

Diamond Edge’s captain reported using AIS as a primary method to identify other boats nearby and the radar units were secondary. Based on those comments, and his failure to perform long-range radar scanning, investigators believe Diamond Edge’s captain was relying too heavily on AIS for collision avoidance.

B.W. Haley’s crew described blind spots caused by the vessel’s lift legs, and investigators believe the starboard leg could have created radar shadow areas that prevented the crew from spotting the oncoming crew boat.

“Long-range radar scanning would have mitigated this risk,” the report said.

Salvage crews dewatered Diamond Edge and took it back to shore. Jewel Marine sold it “as is” about two months later.  

By Professional Mariner Staff