Wacky crew mishaps can both entertain and educate

Aug 17, 2015 by Capt. Jake DesVergers

The winter and spring seasons are over. The shipyard refits are nearing an end, the owner’s plans are finalized, and charters are booked.

In the course of our daily work, the surveyors of International Yacht Bureau (IYB) have the fortune to interact with dozens of people from all walks of life and nationalities. We see a lot of different things, good and bad, on a wide inventory of yachts and ships. Here is one of those things too good to keep to ourselves.

During the external ISM audit of a particular vessel, one of our auditors was sifting through the logbook of accident reports. A serious situation was noted. The vessel had entered Willemstad, Curacao. The harbor pilot was on board. The ship’s cadet had just returned to the wheelhouse from changing the signal G flag (I require a pilot) for the H flag (I have a pilot onboard).

It being his first trip, the cadet was having difficulty in properly rolling up the G flag, so the captain proceeded to show him. Coming to the last part of the flag, the captain instructed the cadet to “let go.” The cadet did not listen, and it was repeated again in a louder tone.

At that moment, the second officer appeared from the bridge wing. Hearing the captain’s order, he radioed the chief officer on the bow to let go the anchors. The port anchor, having been cleared away but not walked out, was promptly let go.

The effect of letting the anchor drop from the hawse pipe while the vessel was proceeding at full harbor speed proved too much for the windlass brake. The entire length of the port chain was pulled out to its bitter end. The braking effect of the port anchor naturally caused the vessel to shear in that direction; right toward the floating bridge that spans the entrance channel to Willemstad.

The floating bridge operator showed great presence of mind by moving the bridge for the vessel. Unfortunately, he did not think to stop the vehicular traffic. This resulted in the bridge being partly opened. A Volkswagen, two cyclists, and a poultry truck were deposited into the ship’s side. Several chickens from the truck did make their way on deck, but were reported by the crew as under control.

Subsequently, a fine was issued by customs for not properly declaring these live animals upon arrival.

In an effort to fully stop the progress of the vessel, the chief officer also dropped the starboard anchor. This action was too late to be of practical use, for it fell on the floating bridge operator’s control cabin.

After the port anchor was let go and the vessel started to sheer, the captain gave a double ring — full astern — on the main engines. He also telephoned the engine control room to apprise them of the situation. He was told that the sea temperature was 73 degrees and asked if there was a movie tonight. Interview with the chief engineer indicated that the captain’s response did not constructively add to the accident investigation.

Immediately upon hearing the anchor being let go, the third officer on the stern was supervising the making fast of the assist tug. He was lowering the ship’s spring line down onto the tug. The sudden braking effect of the port anchor caused the tug to run under the stern of the vessel, just at the moment when the propeller was answering the double ring.

The third officer was prompt in his action to secure the spring line. It delayed the sinking of the tug by several minutes, thereby allowing the safe abandoning of the tug. Simultaneous to letting go of the port anchor, there was a power cut ashore. The fact that the vessel was passing over a cable area at that time might suggest that something may have touched on the sea bottom.

A medical team was summoned to the bridge for the pilot, as he was huddled in the corner of the chartroom, huddled in a fetal position and crying. Additionally, the tugboat captain reacted so violently that he had to be forcibly restrained by the bosun.

The tugboat captain was handcuffed and placed in the ship’s security room. Due to this security breach, the ship security officer raised the ISPS security level to Level III. The ship security alert system was activated and the company security officer notified.

The chief officer collected names and addresses of the drivers and insurance companies of the vehicles that damaged the port side. Legal action was pending against these individuals. Thankfully, no cargo was damaged in the situation and all shipboard personnel were safe.

In conclusion, following a thorough review of the company’s Safety Management System, the designated person ashore identified multiple nonconformities. However, he issued only a single procedural revision to the port arrival checklist. It now advises the cadet that there is no need to fly pilot flags after dark.

Everyone have a safe and enjoyable summer.

Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (IYB), an organization that provides flag-state inspection services to yachts on behalf of several administrations. A deck officer graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, he previously sailed as master on merchant ships, acted as designated person for a shipping company, and served as regional manager for an international classification society. Contact him at +1 954-596-2728 or www.yachtbureau.org. Comments on this column are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.