General Cargo Ship Grounded While Avoiding Ice – Investigation Report

This investigation report is referring to the grounding of a general cargo ship which was caused while trying to evade blocks of ice on the sea. On the morning of 16 August 2012, the container ship VEGA SAGITTARIUS departed from the port of Nuuk, Greenland, heading for Aasiaat in the north-western part of Greenland. Approximately one hour after departure, the watch keeping officer changed course in order to avoid drifting ice ahead and shortly after, the ship ran aground on a submerged rock by the entrance to Godthåbsfjorden.

201.04.14 - General Cargo Ship Grounded While Avoiding Ice - Investigation Report Figure 1

Accident timeline

VEGA SAGITTARIUS completed the cargo operations in the late afternoon of 15 August 2012 at 1835. It was decided to depart the next morning so that the transit out of Nuuk could take place in daylight.

On 16 August 2012 at 0712 LT, VEGA SAGITTARIUS departed from the port of Nuuk according to schedule, heading for Aasiaat, Greenland. At departure, the draught was observed to be 5.78 m forward and 6.70 m aft. There was a moderate southerly wind, a slight sea and good visibility.

On the bridge during departure were the master, the chief officer, the able seaman (AB) and the super cargo, who had stayed on board during the port stay, assisting the crew with the planning of the loading and discharging operations. During departure, there were conversations about the presence of ice in the approaches to the port and how to navigate around it, but it was expected and did not cause any immediate concerns among the crew members on the bridge because they relied on the experience of the super cargo.

The master and super cargo were communicating in the port side of the bridge about the naviga-tion and how to proceed in order to avoid ice growlers in the immediate vicinity. The chief officer was standing by the starboard side conning station. He did not participate in the conversation and could not hear what they were talking about.

Shortly after departure at 0742, the sea passage started and the engine load was set at approximately 70%, which gave a speed over the ground of approximately 16-17 knots. The steering was changed from manual steering by the helmsman to auto steering. The setting of the course was from then on ordered by the officer of the watch. The button setting the course on the auto steering was operated by the helmsman. Shortly after the 3rd officer came to the bridge and observed the navigation; he was standby because his watch usually started at 0800. By this time the vessel was a bit south of the planned course line due to the presence of ice on the planned track.

Shortly after departure and while transiting along the recommended route, the 2nd officer came to the bridge from the forward mooring station. The 2nd officer was told to send a report to GREEN-POS2/Coastal Control and the chief officer was told to send a stevedore damage report afterwards.

At 0750, the master gave the watch to the chief officer. There was no immediate concerns regarding the navigation and there was a calm and relaxed atmosphere on the bridge. The ship was steering southwest course 240° which was changed to 247° to avoid ice on the planned track.

At 0753, a GPS position was plotted on the paper chart by the 3rd officer by order of the chief officer. This was the last position plotted on the paper chart by the officer(s) on watch. The ship was by this time south of the course line.

At 0805, the 2nd officer has finished reporting and the INMARSAT B became available so the chief officer started to send the stevedore damage report. The master was still on the bridge and again held the watch. The super cargo was walking around on the bridge.

At 0810, the master had a stomach problem and asked the chief officer if it would be all right if he went to his cabin. Approximately at this time, the master and the other crew members on the bridge observed ice bergs drifting in a southerly direction west of the Attorsuit (Racon O).

201.04.14 - General Cargo Ship Grounded While Avoiding Ice - Investigation Report Figure 2

Location of the accident.

When the master had left the bridge, the super cargo, the 3rd officer, the AB and the chief officer were on the bridge. The chief officer noticed an ice berg dead ahead and ordered the helmsman to turn to starboard. As the auto steering was activated, the helmsman used the knob to alter the course. Because the chief officer did not give a specific course, he turned the heading to approximately 250. He looked at the 3rd officer standing by the radar in the port side to get confirmation that it was sufficient. He acknowledged this. Meanwhile, the super cargo had left the bridge to go down to the mess room for breakfast.

At 0819, the master met the super cargo in the stairway on his way back to the bridge. As he entered the bridge, he noticed a rock approximately four points to the starboard side of the ship. He asked the chief officer and the 3rd officer about the rock, plotted the ship’s position in the paper chart by means of the GPS and ordered the chief officer: “no more to the starboard”.

However, the other crew members did not observe any rock, but some ice bergs in the same direction. Shortly after, the crew members felt some strong vibrations and the ship started to heel to port and the propeller pitch was set to zero. Initially, the crew thought the ship had run into an ice berg, but when the super cargo came to the bridge shortly after, he informed the crew members that the ship had run aground.

At 0821, immediately after the grounding, the crew sent a distress message by VHF DSC and a verbal message on VHF channel 16. The super cargo also called ashore to inform the company and the authorities about the situation.

201.04.14 - General Cargo Ship Grounded While Avoiding Ice - Investigation Report Figure 3

When the initial confusion had subsided, the crew started assessing the damages suffered by the vessel. The master ordered the 3rd officer to prepare the lifesaving equipment. He went on deck and took the lashings off the rescue boat and life rafts and the embarkation ladder was lowered to the water.

The chief officer went to the deck office and pumped ballast from the port side tanks. Soundings were taken of the water depth around the ship. All tanks and other spaces were sounded and it was established that there was no water ingress. During rounds on the ship, deformed frames and bulkheads were observed on the forward part of the ship.

At approximately 1130, the situation was stabilized. It had been established that there was no water ingress, the ballast water had been pumped out, the crew had made a visual check of the ship and the life-saving equipment was ready for use. The authorities had been informed and SAR op-erations had been initiated.

At noon, the police arrived alongside.

Root causes

  1. The different tasks of the members of the bridge team had been loosely defined. Furthermore, the way in which the change of the watch was carried out caused a loss of information about the forth-coming navigation and about the precautions to be taken.
  2. The presence of drifting ice bergs presented an uncommon concern to the bridge crew and, in the absence of the super cargo, the watch keeping officer reacted in an instinctive manner. He decided to turn the vessel on the basis of the information available on the ECS and the view from the bridge window. The lookout and the other officer on the bridge were also unaware that the manoeuvre would make the ship head towards shallow waters.
  3. The super cargo was not sufficiently integrated in the bridge organisation and, therefore, his ex-perience navigating these waters with ice bergs and shallow water areas was not fully utilized. The lack of a systematic approach to the concept of a local competent person has contributed to this condition.
  4. The information that the ship had received about the special precautions for navigating in Greenlandic waters was not effectively implemented on board, particularly with reference to the reliance on GPS and the use of ECS.

Lessons learned

  1. Ongoing evaluation on the implementation of the bridge team resource management onboard vessels.
  2. Ongoing evaluation of the super cargo / local competent person and further development of the guidelines for how the local competent person functions as super cargo and as a person who gives navigational advice.

Source: DMAIB

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