Monday, December 4, 2017

Sleeping watch officer key element related to last years Nathan E Stewart sinking near Bella Bella

The U. S. National Transportation Board released their report in to the sinking of the Nathan E. Stewart last year near Bella Bella, a marine incident which dumped over 110,000 litres of diesel fuel and contaminants into Seaforth Channel and continues to have repercussions for the Heiltsuk First Nation's reliance on the ocean resources to this day.

Among the many observations from the fourteen page report was the segment of the review of the incident that noted that the sinking of the tug was a result of a second watch crew member who had fallen asleep and a lack of implementation of the Kirby Marine safety management system.

The report which was issued on November 21st, opens with a review of the purpose of the journey of the vessel Nathan E Stewart and its barge loaded with petroleum products and then takes us into the early hours of the incident of October 13th.

The NTSB findings also examine the safety protocols in place by Kirby Marine which operates the tug and barge service between Washington state and points north in Alaska, with the fateful leg of the October incident starting with the tug and barge's journey to the south, when the tandem left the Port of Ketchikan with a destination of Vancouver, British Columbia.

It traces some of the on board routine for the journey southbound along the coast of British Columbia and then turns to the string of events that evolved once the Second mate took over the helm from Captain for the night.

The period of time of most consequence to the events of October 13th came at 1 AM, when one of the crew members on board attempted to contact the second mate by way of UHF Radio and received no response.

After two consecutive attempts, thirty seconds apart, to raise the second mate, the crew member by that time heading towards the bridge felt the vessel give a shudder. Then on a third attempt to contact the second mate by radio,  he was advised by the second mate that the vessel had grounded.

The wider synopsis of events is recounted on page five of the report.

Around 0100, the tanker man on watch attempted to contact the second mate using a handheld UHF radio but received no response. After waiting an estimated 30 seconds to a minute, he attempted to contact the second mate again. When that radio call out also went unanswered, the tanker man began making his way from the galley area to the upper wheelhouse. 

En route, he felt what he described as “shuddering.” During a third attempt to contact the second mate, the tanker man was informed by the second mate that the vessel had grounded. 

At 0108, the bow of the DBL 55 and the starboard propeller (and/or propeller shaft) of the Nathan E Stewart contacted Edge Reef, a rocky area off Athlone Island in the Seaforth Channel. The ATB had continued under autopilot on the last heading input at 0024 until the time of the grounding. 

 The captain was awakened by the sound of the tugboat’s port MDE backing down “hard” as well as by what he described as cavitation that “seemed abnormal.” 

The remainder of the response to the incident by the crew of the vessel outlines the procedures that they put into action to try and control the situation, while reporting the incident to the Prince Rupert Marine Communications And Traffic Centre at 0116 AM, at the same time the situation was relayed to the Joint Rescue Centre in Victoria which tasked vessels to attend to the scene near Bella Bella.

Page thirteen of the fourteen page point provides for the final analysis of the NTSB investigation, delivering their assessment of the probable cause for the November 2016 incident, with two items of significant concern highlighted.

Probable Cause 

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the grounding of the articulated tug and barge Nathan E Stewart/DBL 55 was the second mate falling asleep while on watch. 

Contributing to the grounding was the ineffective implementation of the company’s safety management system procedures for watch standing.

The vessel was equipped with an electronic chart system which featured a cross-track alarm function which if used would have alerted the operator if the vessel's GPS position deviated from the trackline of the active route.

In the report, it was noted that both the captain and mates had been using nautical charts as the primary navigation tool and considered the electronic chart system to be supplementary.

You can review the full report here.

Some of the media coverage of the NTSB report is available below:

Sunken tug near Bella Bella, BC caused by sleeping crew member: report
NTSB says second mate asleep at the wheel before Nathan E Stewart disaster
'I fell asleep' admits second mate in 100,000 fuel spill off B.C.'s coast
A man fell asleep at the wheel, and helped cause a massive fuel spill on B.C's coast
Sailor on watch admits "I fell asleep' in report on fuel spill off B.C. coast

The incident of last year spurred on calls for better protection for coastal areas of British Columbia, with the Heiltsuk Nation providing a full overview for the Federal Government of their response and a call for the establishment of First Nations led based response program to be introduced to the region.

That call was reinforced in just the last week with another incident reported off the coast of Bella Bella, as the Jake Shearer became separated from its barge in severe weather in the region on November 27th.

Though fortunately in this instance, there has been no pollution reported as a result of the difficulties faced by that tug and barge. The most recent situation however, has once again brought the issue of marine safety to the top of the discussion list, with the Heiltsuk finding a number of allies in their quest to ensure that the best response program possible is put in place for their territory.

Included among those calling for the Federal Government to address the concerns from the Heiltusk have been North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice and Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen.

Jennifer Rice, Nathan Cullen weigh in on Jake Shearer and barge situation off Bella Bella

To look back at the events of  both of those incidents, you can review our archive pages related to them below

November 2017 -- Jake Shearer Incident
October 2016  -- Nathan E Stewart Incident

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