NTSB: Trawler Hit MSC Boxship as it was Fixing Gyrocompass While Underway

trawler sinking
Fishing trawler Tremont was lost because the mate was distracting trying to adjust the gyrocompass causing the collision (USCG photo)

Published Jan 3, 2024 5:10 PM by The Maritime Executive


The 2022 collision of an MSC containership and a small fishing trawler was due to the fishing vessel’s watch officer attempting to do maintenance on the navigation system while underway which caused the trawler to veer off course and collide with the containership. The National Transportation Safety Board points out the failures of the crew of the trawler Tremont which also included improper use of the VHF radio to communicate the emergency that resulted in the loss of the fishing vessel and an estimated $6.25 million in damages, but thankfully the crew of the vessel was all rescued without serious injury.

“In this collision, maintenance of a gyrocompass was being conducted while the vessel was underway with its autopilot—which was receiving heading information from the gyrocompass—engaged,” the report said. “Before beginning work, mariners should identify hazards associated with working on one piece of equipment that may affect another, such as sensors feeding information to other equipment, and manage those risks to avoid unsafe conditions.”

The 115-foot trawler had a crew of 12 plus the captain and mate’s 2-year-old child aboard as a passenger when it left New Bedford, Massachusetts on October 7, 2022, for squid fishing off the U.S. East Coast. The crew told the NTSB about four or five days into the 20-day trip “the vessel’s gyrocompass became ‘kind of sporadic,’” but since the error was last than 10 degrees the captain and mate, “determined it ‘was something we could live with,’” and so they continued to operate along the East Coast. They also knew that the vessel’s AIS was not fully functioning and while it was transmitting it was not displaying on the trawler.

On the evening of October 27 after retrieving their fishing gear the trawler was sailing at 7 knots using the autopilot along the coast of the Delmarva Peninsula off Virginia. 

The MSC Rita (105,000 dwt Panama register containership) was making 14 knots northbound about 55 miles east of Chincoteague, Virginia. It was loaded with 8,085 TEU with a crew of 22 aboard. The officer of the watch and lookout on the containership observed the trawler and adjusted course after the captain ordered at least a one-mile distance between the two vessels.

The mate on the Tremont later told the NTSB, “I started having issues with my gyrocompass and I was attempting to straighten it out,” shortly before the collision. However, he had the autopilot engaged which was adjusting the rudder based on information from the gyrocompass. After passing the MSC Rita, the Tremont suddenly turned back. The containership crew sounded their whistle and attempted to evade the trawler but the fishing vessel kept coming and struck the containership about 200 feet aft of the bow. 

Initially, the trawler told the containership that it was all right and the containership continued after the collision. The crew on the fishing vessel however then determined that the bow was “all stove in” and while being assembled and responding to the emergency, the captain made a Mayday call. Another nearby fishing vessel and a research ship heard the call as did the containership which all went to its aid. Unfortunately, the fishing vessel was too far away from the US Coast Guard, which only heard the word “mayday” and the vessel’s name. 

The fishing boat captain then used the satellite phone to call the emergency services on 911, which was routed to the USCG. The Coast Guard dispatched an airplane, helicopter, motor lifeboat, and a cutter, but by this point, the USCG plane reported the fishing boat was listing and down at the bow. 

The crew in their immersion suits got into the liferaft, but the liferaft’s sea painter was entangled with the vessel’s rope ladder. The fishing boat’s mate stayed aboard to release the liferaft, which was towed to safety. The mate, however, was washed overboard and had to be saved by a USCG rescue swimmer.

The Tremont was lost with a value of $4 million plus $750,000 worth of catch. The MSC Rita suffered $1.5 million in damage, including buckled sideshell plating, disoriented framing, and a small hole in its shell plating.

The NTSB in its report points out the mistake of attempting to adjust the gyrocompass while underway and with the autopilot engaged. They determined the mate was also distracted while he was troubleshooting the system and was not maintaining a proper lookout.  

Further, they highlight that modern VHF radios are equipped with digital selecting calling. The captain should have pushed and held the red distress button which would have transmitted the position and nature of the emergency until the call was acknowledged instead of using the satellite to call the shoreside emergency services.