Vessel grounds while skipper asleep

7 October 2005

A Maritime New Zealand investigation into the grounding of a fishing vessel in Otago on 20 July, found the accident happened because the 31-year-old skipper fell asleep while on watch.

The Gem, an 11-metre-long fishing vessel, left Port Chalmers at 4am that morning, and hit rocks on Taieri Island at 7am. Attempts to manoeuvre the vessel off the rocks failed, andĀ The GemĀ broke up and sank. The skipper and his two crew got ashore safely.

Maritime NZ Investigator Zoe Brangwin says the skipper was aware of the dangers of falling asleep while watchkeeping, and he took sensible measures to avoid this, but these alone were not enough to prevent him falling asleep.

“The skipper had slept for about four and a half hours earlier that night, and he’d napped for 30 minutes during the journey while a crewmember was on watch. He’d resumed watch at 5:30am.

“It was sensible to keep short watches and nap in-between, but this wasn’t enough. Like most skippers, he was aware of the dangers of fatigue, but never thought this would happen to him. And he didn’t have a watchkeeping alarm on the vessel because he thought he’d already taken enough precautions.

“There are several things he should have done to avoid falling asleep, which other skippers can learn from. Among these, a watchkeepers alarm is essential as it’ll wake you up because it has to be switched off manually. And an echo sounder alarm will also alert watchkeepers if the vessel is in danger of grounding,” she said.

Maritime NZ has passed several recommendations to the skipper, including that he uses an echo sounder in future, and fits a watchkeeping alarm to his next vessel. The skipper will also speak about his experience at a Maritime NZ safety seminar.

Since the beginning of 2004, fatigue has been a causal factor in 10 commercial maritime accidents, and two recreational accidents. Due to concerns about fatigue at sea, Maritime NZ is developing practical guidance material to help those working in the commercial industry to manage fatigue.

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