Vancouver, BC — The Transportation Safety Board has called for more training on fatigue in the marine industry after finding a crew member fell asleep and missed a planned course change before a tug boat ran aground off British Columbia’s coast.
About 107,000 litres of diesel and more than 2,200 litres of lubricants, including gear and hydraulic oils, leaked into the Pacific Ocean after the Nathan E. Stewart partially sank near Bella Bella in October 2016 as it was towing an empty barge.
Board chair Kathy Fox said the second mate had been working a schedule of six hours on, six hours off for more than two days, which didn’t allow for sufficient rest.
“It’s hard enough to work a six-on, six-off shift for days on end without getting a good night’s sleep,” she said Thursday after the board issued its report. “It’s harder still to do it without the means to recognize and combat the fatigue that this schedule inevitably generates.”
Alarms meant to alert crew members when a vessel goes off course weren’t switched on when the 30-metre tug ran aground, Fox said, adding regulations do not require them to be activated.
“They were sometimes turned off just to avoid what’s perceived to be nuisance alarms, but in this case could have provided warning to the watchkeeper,” she said.
The report recommends watchkeepers be trained to help identify and prevent the risks of fatigue and that all vessel owners have fatigue-management plans tailored to individual operators.
Fatigue has been identified by the board as a “casual or contributory factor” in a number of other marine accidents and Fox said this case was compelling enough to prompt a call for change.
“We think that just regulating time off isn’t in and of itself enough. It’s got to be part of a global strategy that includes education, scheduling principles and alertness strategies and other defences,” she said.
The second mate was alone on the bridge at night and did not have training that would exempt the vessel from needing a marine pilot, both of which are contrary to Canadian regulations, the report says.
Another investigation into the possible contraventions is underway, Fox said.
“Transport Canada is the safety regulator so it’s their responsibility to look at whether there was non-compliance and then what enforcement action may need to be taken after the fact.”
The board also said spill response and recovery efforts following the fuel leak were within prescribed time standards, but it wasn’t always clear who had authority over the operation.
“There was definitely a bit of confusion in the beginning,” said Glenn Budden, the board investigator in charge of the case.
The primary responders got the response organized as quickly as possible and the confusion didn’t cause a delay, but it did create frustration, he said.
The report recommends various agencies come together after a spill response to debrief and share lessons learned.
Chief Marilyn Slett of the Heiltsuk First Nation said she’s disappointed the report’s recommendations around spill response weren’t stronger. The fuel spill forced the closure of prime seafood harvesting and fishing areas, which continues to have devastating social, cultural and economic impacts on the community, she said.
“Our community has continued to pay the price. And we certainly, moving forward, would like to see more collaboration around providing environmental protection that should be here. We’re still left with that gap.”
Slett said the report should also have included more details about safety management procedures on the boat.
In November, the National Transportation Safety Board in the United States released a report saying Houston-based Kirby Offshore Marine had ineffectively implemented safety management procedures, which contributed to the accident involving its tug.
It also said there was a lack of documentation on safety rounds and no evidence that safety management rules were implemented on board the Nathan E. Stewart.
Kirby issued a statement Thursday saying it regrets the incident but “took immediate steps to limit the potential for harm arising from it.” It says procedures, training, auditing and equipment have since been modified to limit the risk of future accidents.