The Cost of Distraction: How a Phone Call led to a $12.3 Million Maritime Accident

A recent report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) demonstrates how a moment of distraction can have disastrous consequences at sea; on July 23, 2022, two vessels collided in the Gulf of Mexico, causing extensive damage and putting the lives of 38 crew members at risk. The report blames the use of a personal cell phone by one officer, plus the performance of non-navigational tasks by another officer as the main factors that led to the collision.

The Collision

The collision involved the Bunun Queen, a 590-foot bulk carrier operated by Wisdom Marine International, and the Thunder, an offshore supply vessel (OSV) operated by Jackson Offshore Operators. The Bunun Queen was transiting eastbound with 20 crew members on board, while the Thunder was heading northbound with 18 crew members on board.

The collision occurred at about 1:14 p.m. local time, about 66 miles south of Port Fourchon, Louisiana. The weather was clear, with good visibility and fair conditions. Both vessels had automatic radar and plotting aid displays and automatic identification system receivers that could detect each other. However, neither of the officers on watch maintained a proper lookout, either by sight, or by using the available electronic systems.

The NTSB report states that the master on the Thunder was using his cell phone and the second officer on the Bunun Queen was engaged in other duties. As a result, they failed to notice the impending collision until it was too late to take evasive action.

The Thunder sustained substantial damage to her port side, which resulted in the flooding of one of her propulsion rooms and three other spaces. Eleven of her crew were evacuated to a Good Samaritan vessel, while the remaining crew stayed with the vessel to control the flooding while it was towed back to port. There were no injuries, and no pollution was reported.

The Bunun Queen sustained damage to her port and bulbous bow, which caused water to enter her forepeak tank. The vessel continued her voyage to New Orleans after the collision.

The total cost of repairs for both vessels was estimated at $12.3 million.

Lessons Learned

The NTSB conducted an investigation into the collision and recently issued its report. The report analyzed the events leading up to the collision, the actions of both vessels’ crews, and the factors that contributed to the accident.

The report found that both vessels violated the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS), which requires “every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate.” The report also found that both vessels had only a single person on the bridge, which violated their company’s watchkeeping policies.

The report concluded that the probable cause of the collision was “the Bunun Queen officer’s distraction due to performing non-navigational tasks, and the Thunder officer’s distraction due to cell phone use, which kept both officers from keeping a proper lookout.”

The NTSB recommends that both companies install bridge navigational watch alarm systems (BNWAS) on their vessels, which are designed to alert other crew members if an officer becomes incapacitated or leaves the bridge unattended. They also recommended reviewing their policies and procedures regarding bridge resource management, as well as watchkeeping, lookout duties, and cell phone use. The report also urges them to provide training and guidance to their crews on these topics.

The report serves as a reminder that even in good weather and clear conditions, navigation at sea requires constant attention and vigilance. A moment of distraction can have serious consequences for both people and property.

We at the Herd Law Firm are proud to fight for maritime workers and passengers in all types of personal injury claims, and never waver in our commitment to help these maritime workers and their families when they are injured.

Charles Herd is a Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife-certified Boater Safety Instructor as well!


Read the NTSB article here and the NTSB Investigation Report here.





Let’s Discuss Your Case

If you or someone that you know has contracted COVID-19 while on board a cruise ship, you may be entitled to compensation. If so, call the law offices of the Herd Law Firm, PLLC for a risk-free evaluation of your potential case.

Call 713-955-3699 now!

We Are Here To Answer Your Questions