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Lack of Communication Led to Cruise Ship Docking Mishap

Berthing area and approximate path of the Norwegian Epic. The Caribbean Princess is not to scale. (Background source: NOAA chart 25670)
Berthing area and approximate path of the Norwegian Epic. The Caribbean Princess is not to scale. (Background source: NOAA chart 25670)

By The Maritime Executive 02-13-2020 05:11:28

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its report about the February 2019, accident involving the cruise ship Norwegian Epic's port bow made contact with two of the mooring dolphins at San Juan Cruise Port, Pier 3 east, in Puerto Rico. 

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the incident was a lack of communication and coordination between the master and pilot, which resulted in a poorly executed docking maneuver.

The vessel had an inoperable port shaft at the time. According to both the master and pilot, they discussed the docking maneuver during their initial master/pilot exchange. The pilot told the master on numerous occasions that they needed to head towards Pier 4, which was east of Pier 3. As was customary with all cruise ships in the San Juan port, the master docked the vessel, and the master and pilot stated that they would use two tugs for docking. 

Although the master and the pilot discussed the use of tugs, they did not discuss how the tugs would be controlled or who would control them. The master was only heard giving one verbal order regarding the tugs (just prior to the vessel’s contact). According to the parametric data from the VDR, there was a point in the maneuver when both the tugboats and the thrusters were in opposition to each other’s actions, demonstrating the lack of coordination between the master and the pilot, states the NTSB.

Many of the pilot’s orders to the tugs and the tug captains’ replies were in Spanish. “The pilot should have related his commands to the captain in English. The master also used gestures instead of verbal orders. Perhaps this could have worked if the master and pilot had agreed upon this method, but this was the first time they had worked together, and they had not previously agreed to this method of communicating tug orders,” stated the NTSB.

Damage to the mooring dolphins and connecting catwalks was estimated at $3.5 million, and damage to the vessel was estimated at $200,000. None of the 6,023 people on board were injured, and there was no reported pollution.

The report is available here.