Lookout failure a factor in fishing vessel collision with containership

A failure by the mate on fishing vessel Tremont to maintain a proper lookout, as well as a failure to conduct maintenance on critical equipment while underway led to a collision on October 28th 2022 when the fishing vessel collided with containership MSC Rita (IMO 9289116), according to a report from the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

No injuries were reported, but damage to the vessels was estimated at $6.25m and the fishing vessel eventually sank. (IMN October 31st 2022).

Shortly after midnight on October 28th 2022 the containership and the fishing vessel Tremont were underway in the Atlantic Ocean, 55 miles southeast of Chincoteague, Virginia, when the two vessels collided.

The 13 people aboard the Tremont abandoned the vessel and were rescued by Good Samaritan vessels and a US Coast Guard helicopter. No injuries were reported. An oil sheen was reported; a potential of up to 31,000 gallons of diesel fuel were lost with the fishing vessel. Damage to the vessels was estimated at $4.75m (Tremont, which sank) and $1.5m (MSC Rita).

The NTSB noted that it was a mistake to attempt 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, NTSB highlighted that modern VHF radios were 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.

The MSC Rita (IMO 9289116) was transiting southbound in the Atlantic Ocean, while the Tremont was transiting north-northeast in the same area. The Tremont passed ahead of the MSC Rita, but then made a sudden turn back toward the containership. Shortly after this change in direction the vessels collided.

​The mate on the Tremont told investigators that he had been trying to fix the vessel’s gyrocompass while autopilot was engaged. The autopilot needed heading feedback from the gyrocompass. It also needed a user to input the desired course. While the mate adjusted the gyrocompass to troubleshoot the error, the autopilot duly processed the heading feedback, as it was meant to do. As a result it turned the vessel towards the MSC Rita.

The NTSB report said that “simultaneous operations, often referred to in safety management systems, [are] a situation where two or more operations occur in the same place at the same time and may interfere with each other. Managing simultaneous operations is an essential element of safety management and safe vessel operation. 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 NTSB report also noted that the Tremont captain used VHF to signal distress, but the long distance between the vessel and the nearest Coast Guard station ashore meant that the distress call was weak. NTSB pointed out that “modern VHF radios are equipped with digital selective calling (DSC)”. Pressing the VHF-DSC button alerts search and rescue authorities and nearby vessels, and automatically provides the vessel’s position.

Time permitting, mariners can select the nature of distress on the radio and verbally communicate with nearby responders. NTSB said that when a vessel is in distress, mariners should use all available means to signal emergency responders, including VHF-DSC.”

The Tremont’s dry hold held nearly 500,000 pounds of product at the time. The vessel itself was valued at $4m, while the load of fish was valued at $750,000.

The MSC Rita, which suffered an estimated $1.5m in damage, comprising buckled sideshell plating, distorted longitudinal framing, and a 600mm-by-400mm hole in the shell plating of the no. 2 water ballast tank.

2005-built, Panama-flagged, 89,954 gt MSC Rita is listed by Equasis as owned by Rita Compana Naviera SA care of MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co of Geneva, Switzerland.

Equasis also lists it as entered with North of England, but no such vessel appears on the NorthStandard database.

However, the IG vessel search lists this vessel as the Erica, which indeed appears under West P&I’s list as IMO 9289116. But the MSC Erica (note slight difference in name) is IMO 9755191. To add to the confusion, Equasis lists this as entered with Standard Club, and it does indeed appear in the NorthStandard database on behalf of Longyang International Ship Lease Co Ltd, as the MSC Erica and under the name MSC Erica.
IMN will contact the interested parties to work out precisely what is happening.