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Tug Grounding: Lookout Recommended

Credit: AIBN
Credit: AIBN

By The Maritime Executive 2019-10-27 18:55:54

Norway's Accident Investigation Board (AIBN) has released its report into the tug FFS Achilles grounding and foundering off Farsund on 3 March 2017, suggesting that the presence of a lookout would have reduced the risk of the incident occurring.

The vessel ran aground at a speed of 8.4 knots, and sank shortly thereafter due to damage to the bottom under the engine room. FFS Atlas arrived at the scene before the vessel sank and rescued its crew, who were in the life raft. Two out of the three crew members had suffered minor injuries and received medical attention.

The mechanical control system for the propeller units (Voith Schneider) on board FFS Achilles was controlled by autopilot. The navigator, who was alone on watch, has stated that he initiated a change of course to port on the autopilot to pass the green navigation marker at Nordre Lamholmflua on his starboard side. The autopilot did not respond, and he made several unsuccessful attempts to initiate a change of course. He decided to deactivate the autopilot in order to switch to manual control, but the vessel ran aground before he could do so.

The investigation into the accident has not found any faults or defects in the propellers’ mechanical control system, and the autopilot did not store data.

With its single bottom and long engine room, FFS Achilles was vulnerable in the event of a grounding. The ingress of water through the damaged bottom exceeded the bilge pumps’ capacity, and the intact water-tight compartments to the fore and aft of the engine room were too small to keep the vessel afloat. 

The investigation concludes that the current design requirements would not necessarily have made a new vessel of the same type as FFS Achilles, built for sailing under the Norwegian flag, any safer when the bottom was damaged. However, as a result of requirements stipulated by some flag states, the industry has developed a new design for a similar tugboat that would probably have survived the damage that sank FSS Achilles.

Safety recommendation

The investigation found that the shipping company had no written procedures for bridge manning and sailing in narrow channels after dark. The AIBN is of the opinion that a lookout would have increased awareness of the vessel’s exact position and thus increased the probability of avoiding the accident.

The Accident Investigation Board Norway recommends that Farsund Fortøyningsselskap implement written procedures for bridge manning and sailing in narrow channels after dark, including the Watchkeeping Regulations’ provisions on the use of lookouts, in the safety management system for their vessels.

The report is available here.