Boozing on the bridge of the feeder container vessel K-Wave, a missing OOW and an unexplained course alteration while on autopilot led to a grounding incident that Britain’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch refers to as “shocking’. VDR recordings revealed numerous toasts during a birthday party, with the result that the officers’ jobs are now toast.
In its conclusions, the MAIB says: “The shocking nature of this incident, that put many lives and potentially, other vessels at risk, makes a powerful argument for the IMO’s new regulations limiting alcohol consumption by seafarers to be widely and robustly applied”.
At 0546 on 15 February 2011, K-Wave ran aground 13 miles east of Malaga on the south Spanish coast, while on passage from Algeciras to Valencia. At the time of the grounding she was proceeding at full speed, and the bridge was unmanned.
The previous evening an engineer came onto the bridge at 2335 and he remained there, talking to the third officer. At around midnight, the second officer and two other officers came to the bridge. The second officer took over the watch from the third officer, but no lookout was posted and the watch alarm was not activated.
The officers on the bridge then began to drink, and over the next two hours proposed a series of ‘toasts’ to celebrate the third officer’s birthday in the form of an impromptu of an impromptu party.
At about 0200 the second officer announced that it was time for the party to break up as he needed to carry out his watch duties. Shortly after this the other officers departed and the second officer was left alone on the bridge. At some point, between 0200 and 0606, the second officer left the bridge.
At 0216, in an unscheduled departure from the passage plan, the vessel’s course was altered from 0810 to 3050. No alarms sounded on the bridge
during this alteration of course, and the bridge remained silent until the vessel grounded at 0546 on a gently shelving, sandy, shoreline 13 miles east of Malaga.
At 0557 the crew of a local fishing boat informed the Spanish coastguard that a merchant vessel appeared to have grounded.
At 0606, the chief officer entered the bridge and found it unmanned. At this time the vessel was hard aground with her controllable pitch propeller
(CPP) still set to full ahead. The chief officer immediately telephoned the master to advise him of the vessel’s predicament. The master arrived
on the bridge at 0608, put the CPP to zero pitch, called the chief engineer and instructed the chief officer to check the vessel for damage.
Says the MAIB report: “The account of events that night provided by those involved, including senior officers, was not consistent with the VDR record of events. As none of those involved was tested after the grounding for drug and alcohol consumption, it cannot be stated as fact that alcohol was being consumed. Further, there were no independent witnesses to the party as there was no lookout posted. However, from the VDR recording of the noise of the party and the conversations, including the regular ‘toasts’ and references to the collection of further supplies, it is reasonable to conclude that large quantities of alcohol were being consumed on the bridge that night”.
More ominously, MAIB notes: “…the alteration of course was not accidental or unintentional, but resulted from a deliberate manipulation of the autopilot controls. Whether the turn was conducted maliciously or as a prank, cannot be determined”.