NTSB: Improper lookouts led to collision that sank tanker

(WASHINGTON) — Two crews not maintaining proper lookouts led to the collision between a yacht and a tanker near Nassau, Bahamas, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Wednesday. The collision resulted in the sinking of the tanker and nearly $7.9 million in damage.

The motor yacht Utopia IV and tanker Tropic Breeze were transiting the Northeast Providence Channel on Dec. 23, 2021, when the two vessels​ collided. Tropic Breeze’s engine room flooded and the vessel eventually sank. The vessel’s seven crewmembers abandoned ship and were rescued by a good Samaritan vessel. Three of the 12 crewmembers on Utopia IV were injured.

Tropic Breeze sinks by its stern about 15 minutes after the collision. NTSB photo

​Before the collision, the captain of Utopia IV was conning the vessel while the bosun navigated and kept a bridge log. On Tropic Breeze, the master and an able seafarer were on watch on the bridge.

The captain of Utopia IV left the bridge shortly before the collision to check on the seven yacht passengers. The bosun, who was not credentialed as a watch officer and was not allowed by regulations to conn the vessel alone, was left performing watch-standing duties by himself and logging navigational data.

At 11 p.m. Eastern time, the bow of Utopia IV struck the transom of Tropic Breeze from directly astern. The yacht was traveling at about 20 knots.

None of the watch standers on Utopia IV or Tropic Breeze reported seeing the other vessel on radar. According to the report, it is likely none of the watch standers had looked at the radar in the 12 minutes before the collision.

During the voyage, Tropic Breeze’s automatic identification system was inoperative due to a power issue. If the unit was working, Utopia IV’s watch stander could have detected Tropic Breeze before the collision and Tropic Breeze’s system would have been able to identify the yacht’s position as it approached from astern.

NTSB investigators concluded that if either vessel had kept a proper lookout, they likely would have detected each other and could have taken action to avoid the collision.

The NTSB determined the probable cause of the collision was Utopia IV’s wheelhouse crew not maintaining a proper lookout and therefore not identifying the tanker they were overtaking. Contributing was Tropic Breeze’s bridge team also not maintaining a proper lookout.

“A proper lookout by suitably trained crewmembers is required by the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972, and is essential in determining the risk of collision,” the report said. “The effective use of all available resources by a bridge team, including visual scanning, radars, electronic charts and an automatic identification system, increases collective situational awareness and contributes to a safe navigation watch. Operators and crews should ensure that vessel bridge teams are staffed with certificated/credentialed mariners who are familiar with all bridge navigation equipment and able to independently take immediate action.” ​

Marine Investigation Report 22-29​ is available here.​ ​

– National Transportation Safety B0ard

By Rich Miller