Officer distractions, cellphone use cited in Gulf collision

(WASHINGTON) — The bridge watch officers on a bulk carrier and an offshore supply vessel were not maintaining a proper lookout before the vessels collided last year near Port Fourchon, La., the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday.

On July 23, 2022​, the bulk carrier Bunun Queen was transiting eastbound in the Gulf of Mexico and the offshore supply vessel Thunder was transiting northbound when the vessels collided. Thunder sustained substantial damage to its port side, which resulted in the flooding of one of its propulsion rooms and three other spaces. No injuries or pollution were reported. The collision resulted in $12.3 million in damage to both vessels.

The offshore supply vessel Thunder is towed to a dock in Port Fourchon, La., after the collision on July 23, 2022. The inset shows damage to the aft port side of the OSV. U.S. Coast Guard photos

​The collision occurred in good visibility, daylight and fair-weather conditions. Each vessel’s automatic radar and plotting aid displays and automatic identification system receivers were able to detect the other vessel. In the time leading up to the collision, neither of the vessels’ officer on watch maintained a lookout — either by visual scanning or using the available electronic systems to prevent a collision. Both officers on watch stated they were engaged in non-navigational tasks. The master on Thunder was using his cellphone and the second officer on Bunun Queen was engaged in other duties.

The Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGs) requires “every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate.”

The NTSB determined the probable cause of the collision was the Bunun Queen officer’s distraction due to performing non-navigational tasks and the Thunder officer’s distraction due to cellphone use, which kept both officers from keeping a proper lookout. Contributing to the casualty was the Thunder’s officer on watch not following his company’s watchkeeping policies.

“Using cellphones and other personal electronic devices has been demonstrated to be visually, manually and cognitively distracted,” the report said. “Non-operational use of cellphones and other wireless electronic devices by on-duty crewmembers in safety-critical positions has been a factor in accidents in all transportation modes. Non-operational use of cellphones should never interfere with the primary task of a watch stander or a bridge team member to maintain a proper lookout. It is important for personnel to follow established protocols regarding cellphone use.”

Click here to read the full report.

– National Transportation Safety Board


By Rich Miller