Eire’s Marine Casualty Investigation Board says that failure of the leading lights at Roonagh Pier were the main cause of the grounding of the passenger ferry Pirate Queen but further investigations revealed serious weaknesses in the navigational procedures and practices on the company vessels. There appeared to be an over reliance on visual aids to
navigation and a neglect to practice and use the electronic aids on board.
On the evening of 20th December 2011 the inter island passenger ferry Pirate Queen grounded on rocks at the entrance to Roonagh Pier, Co. Mayo. The vessel was refloated shortly afterwards and although not holed, it had sustained severe structural damage. Two of the passengers were taken off the ferry whilst she was on the rocks and transferred to the pier by a rigid inflatable boat. One passenger sustained injuries during the incident.
In its conclusions the MCIB says: Initial investigations indicated that the failure of the leading lights at Roonagh Pier were the main cause of the vessel grounding. However further investigations revealed serious weaknesses in the navigational procedures and practices on the company vessels. There appeared to be an over reliance on visual aids to
navigation and a neglect to practice and use the electronic aids on board. When one is very familiar with the waters and on regular passages it is very easy to become complacent.
The Master considers that in hindsight he made an error of judgement in trying to approach the pier without the leading lights. However he made the decision without analysing the situation and he did not use the search light to good effect.
In spite of a number of communications from the ferry company to Mayo CC it failed in its obligation to have working lights. It is clear that of the 12 lights (on 2 pods), 9 were burnt out. Evidence was also given that the green light was non-
operational on the day of the incident. The pole for the upper light was sloping back at such an angle that the main beam of the light was pointing skywards.
None of the failings happened at the same time and it is therefore obvious that Mayo CC did not carry out adequate maintenance on all of the lighting.
Good pier illumination which illuminates the water around the pier is essential to judge the condition of the swell and waves.
Although not directly contributing to the incident, an irregularity in the crew manning was uncovered. Had the incident required the launching of the vessels boat or damage control such as bilge pumping the presence of a casual crew not
familiar with the vessel or the company’s emergency procedures could have been a liability.
There was no direct evidence that this irregularity, the use of passengers as crew, was a regular occurrence. The current arrangements for crew rostering appear too flexible and uncertain and are likely to lead to a situation similar to that on
the 20th December where there was no third crewmember available.