Ferry bottom contact linked to safety management deficiencies

Ferry bottom contact linked to safety management deficiencies
Ferry bottom contact linked to safety management deficiencies

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has published an investigation report about the bottom contact of the passenger ferry ‘Deer Island Princess II’ near Letete, New Brunswick, in February 2018. It has determined that common safety hazards, such as extremely low tides, had not been identified and mitigated by the operator of the vessel.

On 2 February 2018, the passenger ferry Deer Island Princess II, with 4 people onboard, made bottom contact while transiting from Butler Point, Deer Island, New Brunswick to Letete, New Brunswick. As a result, one of two Z-drive thruster units detached from the vessel. The crew aborted its voyage and was proceeding back to Butler Point using the remaining thruster when the vessel made bottom contact a second time and the remaining thruster detached from the vessel.

With no propulsion, the vessel was anchored until the following day when it was towed to Letete by the tug Atlantic Spruce. There were no injuries as a result of the occurrence. There was minor pollution.

The investigation found that a combination of the lower-than-predicted tide level, local topography, and a persistent northwesterly wind resulted in a water level that was significantly lower than tide table predictions in the area. As a result, there was not enough water along the route to accommodate the vessel’s draft. In addition, the master was not aware of the actual height of the tide, and had no means of determining water depth since the vessel was not equipped with a depth sounder and the tide boards at Butler Point Wharf and Letete were in disrepair and unusable.

Under current regulations, the Deer Island Princess II is not required to have an SMS. However, the partnership agreement between the Province of New Brunswick and the vessel’s managing company required the company to comply with the ISM Code. The investigation identified several safety risks, such as grounding or striking bottom during low tides, for which no risk mitigation measures were taken by the operator as part of its SMS. Additionally, the Deer Island Princess II and John E. Rigby, both operated by the same company, have been involved in four grounding or bottom contact occurrences since the current SMS was put in place by the operator in 2012.

Safety management is on the TSB’s Watchlist 2020. To date, only Canadian vessels that operate on international voyages and are subject to Chapter IX of SOLAS must comply with the existing Safety Management Regulations. These regulations do not apply to the majority of domestic vessels (referred to as “non-convention” vessels), although the recent “tiered” proposal by Transport Canada would expand their applicability.

Safety management will remain on the Watchlist for the marine transportation sector until:
– TC implements regulations requiring all commercial operators to have formal safety management processes; and
– Transportation operators that do have an SMS demonstrate to TC that it is working—that hazards are being identified and effective risk-mitigation measures are being implemented.

As this occurrence demonstrates, even when operators do have safety management processes in place, they are not always able to demonstrate that hazards are being identified and that effective risk mitigation measures are being implemented.

Actions taken
Following the occurrence, the vessel management company completed an internal investigation of the occurrence with respect to weather, timeline of events, damage, observations, root causes, recommendations, and costs by consulting with the masters working on the Deer Island ferry service. The review resulted in no changes to the SMS for operations at low tide.

Download the report: TSB Canada Deer Island Princess II - 2021 05

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