NTSB faults navigation procedures of crew on small cruise vessel that hit rock and sank

The master of Safari Spirit, the small cruise vessel that ran aground and sank in British Columbia’s Kisameet Bay in May 2003, failed to use all available means to determine the vessel’s position accurately, the National Transportation Safety Board has concluded.

   Image Credit: Courtesy Shearwater Marine Resort

The NTSB found that American Safari Cruises, the vessel’s operator, was also at fault because it had not provided its crews with adequate safety guidelines or procedures for selecting ports and anchorages.

The conclusions were stated in a report approved by the NTSB in April 2004.

The 105-foot luxury yacht was en route from Seattle to Juneau, Alaska, on a 15-day scenic cruise. Safari Spirit ran aground on a submerged rock shortly after 0700 on May 8, 2003, while departing Kisameet Bay, where it had anchored the previous night.

Image Credit: Courtesy National Transportation Safety Board

Safari Spirit made its way between the island marked B and a small rock, C, using just one point, E, as a reference point to maintain its heading. Turning too soon, the boat struck the submerged rock at D.

After the master’s efforts to free the vessel failed, the vessel remained resting on the rock at an angle of 35° to starboard as the tide dropped. All 10 passengers and six crewmembers escaped unharmed in Safari Spirit’s skiff.

Rescue vessels reached the site by 0930. Water began flooding the afterdeck and the lazarette, eventually filling the engine room and slowly submerging the stern. At 1020 Safari Spirit slipped from the rock and sank in 70 feet of water. The vessel rested on the bottom, with the bow remaining above the surface.

The master, who had anchored safely in Kisameet Bay three times before, was navigating the bay’s narrow waters using an unsuitable large-scale chart (Canadian Chart No. 3936 with a 1:40,000 scale). Though the master claimed to be well aware of the submerged rock and the tidal cycles of the bay, and had seen the rock exposed before, he changed the vessel’s course to a southwesterly direction prematurely before clearing the rock.

According to the NTSB report, the master navigated by only one reference point — the southerly tip of a small island — when employing the radar’s variable-range-marker capability.

“Because he relied solely on one navigational reference point, the master had no alternative means of checking his vessel’s position as the Safari Spirit made its way south out of the bay,” the NTSB determined.

The vessel was operating at 3.5 knots when it ran aground. The master was well rested and tested negatively for illegal drug usage.

American Safari Cruises did not adhere to any formal cruise itineraries, aside from the departure and destination ports, nor did the company establish any predetermined anchorage sites. This approach allowed the master more flexibility in fulfilling the passengers’ sightseeing and activity requests. However, American Safari Cruises had not established proper safety guidelines in order to avoid collisions in the small waterways in which its vessels operated, the report said.

The NTSB criticized the company’s lack of “a voyage planning and procedure manual detailing port/anchorage selection criteria, identifying hazards and risks in vessel operating areas, and setting forth safety guidelines for mitigating risks and hazards.”

Safari Spirit, which was salvaged and recovered eight days after the sinking, was declared a constructive total loss due to extensive saltwater damage totaling nearly $3 million.

The Canadian Coast Guard Environmental Response Branch assessed American Safari Cruises $37,673 for supplying and assisting in rigging an oil boom around the wreck site while the vessel was submerged.

By Professional Mariner Staff