Inadequate lookout led to collision between tanker and yacht – NTSB

The failure of both crews to maintain a proper lookout was the main cause of a collision between large motor yacht Utopia IV (IMO 9851050) and tank vessel Tropic Breeze (8906315) near Nassau, The Bahamas, on December 23rd 2021 the US National Transportation Safety Board has found.

The Utopia IV and the Tropic Breeze were transiting the Northeast Providence Channel, 20 miles northwest of Nassau, The Bahamas, when the two vessels collided. The Tropic Breeze’s engine room began flooding. The vessel’s seven crewmembers abandoned the Tropic Breeze to liferafts and a rescue boat before the ship sank, and they were rescued by a Good Samaritan vessel. Three of the 12 crew aboard the Utopia IV sustained minor injuries. There were 156,500 gallons of petroleum cargo and fuel lost with the tanker. The collision resulted in the sinking of the tank vessel and nearly $7.9 million in damages.

The US-flagged Utopia IV was a 175.8-foot-long motor yacht built in 2018 in Italy. The Belize-flagged Tropic Breeze was a 159-foot-long steel product tanker operated by Maritime Management.

Before the collision, the captain of the Utopia IV was conning the vessel while the bosun navigated and kept a bridge log. On the Tropic Breeze, the master and an able seafarer were on watch on the bridge.

The captain of the Utopia IV left the bridge shortly before the collision to check on the seven yacht passengers. The bosun, who was not a credentialed watch officer and was not allowed by regulations to conn the vessel alone, was left performing watchstanding duties by himself and logging navigational data.

At 23:00 Eastern time the bow of the Utopia IV, traveling at about 20 knots, struck the transom of the Tropic Breeze from directly astern.

None of the watchstanders on the Utopia IV or Tropic Breeze reported seeing the other vessel on radar. According to the report, it is likely none of the watchstanders had looked at the radar in the 12 minutes before the collision.

The Tropic Breeze’s AIS had not been working during the journey. NTSB said that, if the unit had been working, Utopia IV’s watchstander could have detected the Tropic Breeze before the collision and the Tropic Breeze’s system would have been able to identify the yacht’s position as it approached from astern.

The investigators concluded that, if either vessel had kept a proper lookout, they likely would have detected each other and could have taken action to avoid the collision. It found that the likely cause of the collision was the Utopia IV’s wheelhouse crew not maintaining a proper lookout and therefore not identifying the tank vessel they were overtaking. The failure of Tropic Breeze’s bridge team to maintain a proper lookout was a contributory factor.

2018-built, USA-flagged, 986 gt Utopia IV is owned and managed by Utopia yachting LLC of Dover, Delaware, USA.

1989-built, Belize-flagged, 348 gt Tropic Breeze is owned by BTCI Tankers Ltd care of maritime Management Miami of North Miami beach, Florida, USA.