TSB: Montreal collision was result of language problem, ignoring radar

5 Heloise1

A freighter and a tugboat collided in the St. Lawrence River in 2013 because of language barriers on the ship and both crews’ failure to use available navigation resources, investigators said.

The pilot on the bulk carrier Heloise was not monitoring the tug Ocean Georgie Bain at the time of the collision, and the bridge crew on the Heloise was not assisting the pilot by maintaining a lookout or using navigational equipment to advise the pilot of relevant traffic, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board said in a recent investigative report. 

The collision happened Aug. 3, 2013, at approximately 2059 hours while the vessels were transiting the St. Lawrence River near Section 76 in the Port of Montreal. There was no pollution and there were no injuries, but the tug sustained damage.

The 610-foot Heloise was downbound from Thunder Bay, Ontario, laden with lentils bound for Mersin, Turkey, when a Corporation des Pilotes du Saint-Laurent Central (CPSLC) pilot boarded the evening of Aug. 3. His assignment was to navigate the vessel to Section 100 of the port. The departing Great Lakes Pilotage Authority (GLPA) pilot cautioned him that it was difficult to communicate with the bridge crew due to their minimal proficiency in English.

When Heloise, owned by Parakou Shipping Ltd. of Hong Kong, approached the Port of Montreal there were numerous pleasure craft in the area due to a fireworks show on shore, increasing the difficulty of navigation for commercial vessels. 

At 2050, the 75-foot Ocean Georgie Bain, owned by Ocean Group Inc. in Quebec City, entered the main channel at a speed of 9 knots. The pilot on Heloise could see the tug and estimated it to be approximately 1 nm ahead of the ship, bearing fine on its port side. At 2054, Ocean Georgie Bain had slowed down to 5.3 knots and was near the middle of the main channel. The distance separating the tug and Heloise had decreased to approximately 0.6 nm, and the pilot could still see the tug fine on the port side, the TSB said.

At 2056, the pilot, seeing pleasure craft ahead coming in the opposite direction, twice asked the officer-of-the-watch to turn on the forward deck lights to make the vessel more visible. The order was not fulfilled. The pilot then requested to have someone posted forward on the forecastle deck to stand by at the anchors, and requested that the master come to the bridge. When the master arrived on the bridge, the pilot requested that the forward deck lights be turned on, and the master turned on the lights. The master was not informed of the request to have someone stand by at the anchors, and this command was not executed, the investigators said. 

The pilot, standing on the port side of the bridge, observed three pleasure craft ahead of Heloise, moving toward the vessel. Two altered course to starboard in order to meet port to port. The third altered its course to port and disappeared from sight behind Heloise’s cranes. The pilot walked over to the starboard side of the bridge looking for the pleasure craft, losing sight of the Ocean Georgie Bain. Not being able to see the pleasure craft, the pilot altered to port sooner than planned; the time was 2057, and the distance from the tug had decreased to 0.25 nm.

Aboard Ocean Georgie Bain, as visibility was good, the master navigated visually and did not turn on the radar. The electronic chart system was turned on but not used. The master proceeded near the middle of the channel. He was not aware of the downbound Heloise, astern, because he was navigating visually and not using electronic navigational equipment, the report said.

The tugboat Ocean Georgie Bain. Investigators said officers on both vessels failed to use all available navigation resources.

Photos courtesy Transportation Safety Board of Canada

Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS) had not reported the presence of Heloise. The engineer, who was standing on the bridge, saw the bulk carrier approaching but did not advise the master and left the bridge shortly after seeing the vessel.

When the pilot on Heloise altered course to port to avoid a pleasure craft, he was not looking at Ocean Georgie Bain, which was stopped and drifting near the middle of the channel. Once the pleasure craft was clear of the ship, the pilot steadied the course of the vessel in the direction of the tug, and the two vessels collided.

“The pilot on the Heloise was not monitoring the Ocean Georgie Bain at the time of the collision, and the bridge crew on the Heloise was not assisting the pilot by maintaining a lookout or using navigational equipment to advise the pilot of relevant traffic,” the TSB found, adding, “The language barrier between the bridge crew and pilot on the Heloise contributed to challenges in communication and, consequently, to ineffective bridge resource management at a critical time during the voyage.”

In an interview with Professional Mariner magazine, Ocean Group spokesman Philippe Filion said most of the report commented on the events on the bridge of Heloise and that Ocean Group was acting on all the findings in the TSB report.

Capt. Pierre Vallée, president of the CPSLC, said that the TSB report is an accurate description of the event and the corporation agrees with its conclusions.

Vallée noted that the Great Lakes pilot pointed out language problems with the crew of the ship to the CPSLC pilot, who encountered the same problems. In addition, Vallée said it is the authority of the host nation to permit or prohibit a ship to proceed in its waters based on meeting laws and regulations including those of language of work. Pilots only board ships that have permission to proceed.

The large number of recreational boaters present exacerbated the language difficulties between the crew and pilot, Vallée said in an email to Professional Mariner.

The incident occurred at a curve that is the narrowest passage in the Port of Montreal and near the anchor exclusion zone at the Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine tunnel. The incident followed an avoidance of a collision by the ship, Vallée added.

By Professional Mariner Staff