The failure of a propulsion clutch on a self-propelled bunker barge en route from Quebec to Mexico was a leading factor in its grounding early last year off Nova Scotia, Canadian officials said in a recent report.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) also cited poor voyage planning, insufficient maintenance and inadequate manning aboard Arca 1, which grounded on Cape Breton Island at 0811 on Jan. 8, 2017.
“The master, who was not qualified to serve in that role on the Arca 1, carried on assuming the role of master during the voyage and made critical decisions, such as the decision to sail on the day of the occurrence,” the TSB report said. “Because he did not serve the role of chief engineer, for which he was qualified, the primary oversight of the mechanical systems during the voyage was left to the motorman, who was not a qualified chief engineer.”
Arca 1 departed Sorel, Quebec, for Mazatlan, Mexico, on Dec. 31, 2016, following its acquisition by Petroil Marine of Mexico. Prior to the sale, the 53-year-old vessel was laid up at a Sorel shipyard for two years.
The voyage appeared star-crossed from the start. Three days after leaving port, the captain diverted to Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec, after a fuel injector failure on the starboard engine, the TSB report said. The vessel left for Sydney, Nova Scotia, on Jan. 7 despite forecasts calling for winds of 45 knots and seas building to 10 to 16 feet the next day.
Arca 1 sailed under a Panamanian flag during its delivery voyage, yet its authorization from the country’s maritime authority specified certain manning requirements as well as prohibitions against operating in rough weather. Specifically, it was not permitted to sail when wind ratings exceeded Beaufort 7 or when waves were predicted to exceed 13 feet. Beaufort 7 represents near-gale conditions with winds reaching 33 knots.
Less than nine hours after leaving Iles-de-la-Madeleine, at 1710 on Jan. 7, Arca 1’s port main engine tachometer fell to 0 rpm. The motorman checked the engine and immediately noticed a burning smell.
“The port propulsion clutch was slipping, which had resulted in overheating of the clutch, its housing and the engine flywheel,” the TSB report said. “The master was informed of the issue and placed the propeller at 90 degrees to the stern to provide better steerage and shut down the port engine.”
Arca 1 continued toward Sydney at 6 knots with one operating engine until about 0100 the next morning, when winds increased and the vessel’s speed dropped. Over the next two hours, Arca 1 traveled 9 nautical miles. Weather conditions deteriorated further, and by 0315 the vessel was no longer making headway in winds up to 50 knots that pushed it toward the shoreline. Later that morning, at 0624, the master told Canadian watch standers the vessel was in distress.
The ship’s track line from Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec, and the coordinates of the grounding on Cape Breton Island.
Pat Rossi illustration
Forty minutes later, the master ordered the only anchor dropped in an effort to hold position with assistance from the single working engine. The anchor soon began dragging and the crew attempted to reset it.
“However, before they had a chance to do so, the vessel hit bottom, damaging the starboard z-drive, and lost all means of propulsion,” the TSB report said. “The anchor was dropped again but could not hold, and the vessel drifted closer to the shoreline until it grounded at 0811.”
The vessel became stuck a few miles from the entrance to Sydney Harbor. About six hours later, Canadian authorities airlifted the crew from the stranded vessel. None of the six mariners were injured, and there was no pollution.
Investigators reviewing the incident identified several factors contributing to the grounding:
• Arca 1’s master was not properly credentialed for the international voyage on a vessel that large. In order to meet Panama’s manning requirements, the master reclassified himself on vessel documents as engineer and listed the second mate as master. Yet during the voyage, the master acted in that role, as did the second mate. As such, there was no dedicated engineer on board as required.
“The investigation determined that, as a result of some crewmembers’ performing roles for which they were not qualified, certain critical tasks were not carried out, and others were performed ineffectively,” the report said.
• Authorities noted the voyage plan was not amended after diverting to Iles-de-la-Madeleine, and it did not properly consider contingencies. They also highlighted the master’s decision to sail despite weather forecasts calling for seas exceeding 13 feet.
• Crew performed visual inspections on the propulsion clutch and it underwent tests before leaving Sorel, the report said. But it was not checked for tension or adjusted before or during the voyage as recommended by the manufacturer.
Salvage crews refloated Arca 1 on Jan. 15, a week after the grounding, and towed it to Sydney. The TSB report said the ship sustained “major damage” to the hull and propulsion machinery. Petroil Marine later arranged for a heavy-lift transport to haul it to Mexico.