Victoria, BC — A tugboat accident has the Transportation Safety Board repeating its calls for heightened awareness about the dangers of crew fatigue while at sea.
There were no injuries or pollution spills when the lone mate on watch duty fell asleep as the Ocean Monarch touched bottom while on auto pilot in Princess Royal Channel in British Columbia, but it could have been deadly, the board’s senior marine investigator, Glenn Budden, said Thursday.
“We’re talking very remote country,” he said.
“It could have been much, much worse. We could have had three fatalities on our hands.”
The Ocean Monarch was towing a barge filled with cement when the July 2017 accident occurred south of Kitimat.
The tug’s master and deck hand were asleep below deck and the vessel’s navigational alarms were off, the board’s report says. It concludes the mate likely fell asleep as a result of acute fatigue from previous night shifts, chronic sleep disruptions and the monotonous workload in the wheel house.
“You basically are impaired,” said Budden. “Your reaction time is slower. Your cognitive thinking is not what it should be.”
The board recommended mandatory fatigue awareness training for watch keepers and fatigue management plans for vessel operators.
The board’s report does not say who owns the tug and attempts to find its owner for comment were not successful.
Last May, the board made similar fatigue awareness recommendations for vessel operators and crew members in its report on the sinking of the Nathan E. Stewart, a tug that spilled about 110,000 litres of diesel into the water off B.C.’s central coast.
The board highlighted employee fatigue in its annual 2018 watch report as a major safety hazard in the marine, rail and air transport industries.
“What the investigations are finding is that fatigue is not well recognized and one of our recommendations is to provide some recognition and awareness about fatigue,” said Budden. “In a lot of cases, (crews) don’t think they are fatigued. They don’t feel tired but then they fall asleep.”
He said the channel where the Ocean Monarch touched bottom is a narrow stretch of water in an area called the Inside Passage. It requires vessel operators to be on alert, he added.
“Where he went aground is some of the narrowest water that we have on the Inside Passage,” said Budden. “It completely reduces the margin for error. If you do happen to have a mechanical difficulty or fall asleep you don’t have much time before you are going to hit the beach.”
After the Transportation Safety Board’s investigation, the operator of the vessel installed a navigational watch alarm on the bridge of the Ocean Monarch and ordered that all alarms be enabled and monitored at all times. New safe operating procedures were also developed and implemented, the board says.