NTSB says alcohol likely a cause of vessel striking mooring dolphins

On December 30th 2018 the stern of passenger vessel Nippon Maru (IMO 8817631) struck mooring dolphins at a US Navy fuelling wharf in Apra Harbour, Guam, while the vessel was manoeuvring in a turning basin after getting under way from the harbour’s commercial port. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has found that alcohol impairment was probably a factor in the incident occurring. No pollution or injuries were reported. Damage to the vessel was estimated at $456,080, while damage to the mooring dolphins was in excess of $500,000.

The pilot stated that, as he prepared to leave the ship after the accident, he smelled alcohol on the breath of the master. He said that prior to this time he had not been close enough to the master to detect the odour. During post-accident interviews, the master told investigators that he drank one can of beer on the day of the accident, several hours before the incident occurred, and had no other alcoholic beverages before getting under way. However, in a statement made to the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism about two weeks after the accident, the master reported that, between 1700 and 1800 on the accident date, about three hours before the accident, he drank one and a half cans of premixed whisky with soda. He also stated in the Report of Marine Casualty submitted to the US Coast Guard that he drank a can of beer after the accident, between about 2300 and 2400, to “calm my mind.”

The master had a positive alcohol screen at 02:15 on December 31st, about five hours after the accident, with a confirmatory positive breath alcohol test of 0.071 g/dL at 02:30.

NTSB said that “given the evidence, it is likely that impairment from alcohol contributed to the accident”.

The master stated that while he and the pilot attempted to pivot the vessel in the turning basin, he had mistakenly moved the joystick that controlled the Nippon Maru’s engines and rudder.

To stop the sternway of the Nippon Maru as it began its turn, the pilot requested dead slow ahead and then half ahead on the vessel’s engines. As the vessel continued to close on the mooring dolphins, more drastic engine orders, such as engines full ahead, would have been expected to avoid contact.

However, given that the master had mistakenly moved the engines to astern while intending to go ahead and ignored warnings from the third officer, NTSB said that it was unlikely that requests from the pilot to further increase ahead propulsion would have changed the outcome of the accident.

The pilot’s orders to the tugboat Talofofo to increase astern propulsion, which were intended to increase the swing of the ship, were insufficient to counteract the sternway generated from the errant engine and rudder input from the master.

According to the pilot, a master/pilot exchange was normal practice on the ships that he piloted, but an exchange was not conducted on the Nippon Maru prior to getting under way for the accident voyage. He said that the master arrived on the bridge minutes before the ship began singling up lines in preparation for getting under way, and no information was discussed, other than which direction the vessel would turn. The pilot said that a proper master/pilot exchange would have allowed the pilot and master to talk through the expected actions of the master and the operation of the joystick controller. Furthermore, interaction with the master during a master/pilot exchange would have given the pilot an opportunity to discover that the master had been drinking, and, if he believed it necessary, an alternate arrangement could have been made to ensure that the Nippon Maru was operated safely.

Throughout the accident sequence, the master and pilot communicated in English, while nearly all other shipboard communications were conducted in Japanese. Because of this the pilot was not aware of the distances to the mooring dolphins being reported by the second officer on the stern. Although the pilot received distance reports from the tugboat Talofofo captain, he was not able to understand the additional distance information being provided by the crew, which would have corroborated the information provided by the tugboat.

Furthermore, the pilot was not able to understand the third officer’s first two warnings that the master had the joystick controller in the full astern position. It was only the final warning, 5 seconds before impact, that was spoken in English.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the passenger vessel Nippon Maru’s contact with the mooring dolphins at the US Navy wharf D in Apra Harbour, Guam, was alcohol impairment of the master while he conned the vessel, resulting in an errant astern engine input.

  • Owner/operator Mitsui O.S.K. Passenger Line, Ltd.
  • Flag Japan
  • Type Passenger vessel
  • Year built 1990
  • IMO number 8817631
  • Classification society Nippon Kaiji Kyokai (ClassNK)
  • 22,472 gross tons
  • Owner and manager: Mitsui Passenger of Tokyo, Japan
  • P&I Cover: UK Club (Area Group London J1) on behalf of Mitsui OSK Passenger Line Ltd.