The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has concluded that a ferry captain likely fell asleep at the helm before a catastrophic crash in Seattle last year, causing substantial damage to both the vessel and the dock.
A Costly Reminder of Safety
The incident, which serves as a stark reminder of the importance of vigilance and adherence to safety protocols, raises critical questions about the consequences of crew complacency and the urgency of addressing staffing shortages.
Routine Journey Turns Troublesome
On July 28, 2022, the Cathlamet ferry embarked on a routine journey from Vashon Island, carrying 94 passengers and vehicles across Puget Sound.
The Collision’s Costly Consequences
However, as the ferry neared its destination in West Seattle, it collided with a dock structure known as a “dolphin,” resulting in $10.3 million in damages to the ferry and $300,000 in damages to the dock.
So What Caused the Crash?
While there was just one minor injury reported, the incident’s root cause was deeply troubling.
Startling Lapse in Captain’s Attention
The NTSB’s final report revealed a shocking lapse in the ferry captain’s attention.
The captain failed to take corrective actions, slow down, or raise an alarm before the collision.
Captain Has No Memory of Crash
Most alarmingly, the captain couldn’t recollect the events leading up to the crash and seemed oblivious to how the accident occurred.
The Intriguing Concept of Microsleep
The report pointed to the possibility of incapacitation caused by a microsleep, a brief episode of sleep lasting mere seconds, triggered by fatigue.
This revelation emphasizes the paramount importance of addressing fatigue-related risks within the maritime industry.
Addressing the Perils of Fatigue
NTSB investigators underscored the urgent need for mariners to understand the performance implications of sleep deprivation and the perils of fatigue, including microsleeps.
A Call for Vigilance and Awareness
In their final report, they urged mariners to recognize the dangers of operating while unable to safely fulfill their responsibilities.
The safety of passengers and crew members alike hinges on the vigilance and alertness of those at the helm.
Crew and Quartermaster Failures
The NTSB report highlighted another concerning aspect of the incident: the failure of the ferry crew and the onboard quartermaster to adhere to Washington State Ferries’ safety policies.
Neither the crew during docking nor the quartermaster, whose role includes monitoring the captain as the vessel approaches the dock, followed the established protocols.
Deviation from Safety Protocols
This negligence significantly contributed to the severity of the incident. Had the quartermaster intervened when the captain became incapacitated, the outcome might have been different, averting potential disaster.
Seattle Ferries Plagued by Staff Shortages and Mechanical Issues
Washington State Ferries, the agency responsible for ferry operations in the Puget Sound and San Juan Islands, has been grappling with staffing shortages and mechanical issues for several years.
1 Year Later, The Issues Persists
These challenges have led to delays and reduced ferry availability. Nicole McIntosh, Ferries’ deputy assistant secretary, acknowledged that while progress is being made in recruitment, a shortage persists, reflecting the ongoing challenges faced by the agency.
Safety is a Top Priority
Safety remains a top priority for Washington State Ferries, and the NTSB’s findings have reinforced the significance of maintaining this commitment.
Ongoing Coast Guard Investigation
The NTSB’s findings provide essential insights into the incident, but the United States Coast Guard is conducting a separate investigation, ensuring a thorough examination of all factors contributing to the crash.
A Message of Maritime Safety
The incident serves as a poignant reminder of the critical need for adherence to safety protocols, addressing staffing shortages, and promoting a culture of vigilance within the maritime industry.
Shared Responsibility for Safety
As the Cathlamet ferry’s ill-fated journey continues to be scrutinized, it underscores the broader challenges faced in ensuring maritime safety and the need for shared responsibility among crew members, mariners, and maritime authorities.
Be Vigilant, Be Safe
Vigilance remains the keystone for averting such disasters and ensuring the well-being of passengers and crew.
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Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / T. Schneider.