Marine Accident Brief: Contact of the Cruise Ship Nippon Maru with Mooring Dolphins

Marine Accident Brief: Contact of the Cruise Ship Nippon Maru with Mooring Dolphins

Executive Summary

​At 2113 local time on December 30, 2018, the stern of the passenger vessel Nippon Maru struck mooring dolphins at a US Navy fueling wharf in Apra Harbor, Guam, while the vessel was maneuvering in a turning basin after getting under way from the harbor’s commercial port.1 No pollution or injuries were reported. Damage to the vessel was estimated at $456,080; damage to the mooring dolphins was in excess of $500,000.

Probable Cause

​The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the passenger vessel Nippon Maru’s contact with the mooring dolphins at the US Navy wharf D in Apra Harbor, Guam, was alcohol impairment of the master while he conned the vessel, resulting in an errant astern engine input.

Full Report

Is it just me, or is that conclusion just a bit convenient? I mean, it’s clear enough that alcohol impairment was the triggering factor here, but is that all? What about systems design? How was sternway monitored and called out? What manner of company oversight allowed gundecking the SMS?

Also, that third gets my hero of the year award for attempting physical intervention. One thing is to lean in and touch the right button, but against the sort of captain that tells him where he can shove his briefing? Ballsy.

Sometimes it is just a simple explanation. If the captain insists on throwing it in reverse despite warnings from the aft deck that you are closing on the dolphin, what more is there to say? Yea, if the pilot had smelled alcohol earlier, blah, blah. Every ship has an SMS and not a single one is worth anything if the Master chooses to ignore it. Are you asking why didn’t the company catch this before it happened? Of why wasn’t the joystick designed so that a drunk couldn’t screw it up?

Pretty much. With that kind of shit going on, I’d think the rot goes deep.

That would be good system design.

On my own boat, rudder and pitch are moved by a four way loader valve fed by a big PTO pump on the main. The arrangement is very precise and has few possible points of failure, but it requires you to keep your wits about you and watch what you’re doing. I designed and built the system myself, fully aware that it’s bad design, but rationalized that it’ll be me in the hot seat and I can deal with it. When from time to time the need does arise to teach someone else to drive the thing, I have to watch them closely until they get considerable seat time, and never quite lose the uneasy feeling that I’m setting them up for failure.

Thus, I wonder if the design of the pitch change mechanism might have been a contributory factor in this case.

Probably. From many accounts, I’m inclined to understand that “alcohol impairment” was rather an understatement. Were I to colloquialise, I’d say he was quite smashed. Since he was also acting as Master during this abortive rotation, I’d say he had no business on the bridge.

That’s a lot more descriptive than the report’s ‘BAC probably in excess of .15’. If we’re talking falling over backwards, catching himself on the joystick, I doubt you could design it safe enough.

I’m still curious, though: On a boat like this, would pitch position or pitch movement be proportional to the joystick position? One is certainly much more drunk proof than the other.