Why Ships Keep Crashing

Here is a trap:
Many electronic charting systems will drop details as you zoom in and out and it is not always obvious. I know of 2 boats destroyed from this factor and one had multiple fatalities.
My buddy almost ran into a buoy due to this - he zoomed out enough for it to end up under the “own ship” icon.

That must have been embarrassing. :grinning:

The below study of over 1.1 million Swedish people they found that low-IQ people were more than twice as likely to have a car accident than high-IQ people. The same might apply to accidents involving ships.

In age-adjusted analyses, men in the lowest IQ group were more than twice as likely to have an unintentional injury as those in the highest group and a SD (1.9 point) decrease in IQ score was associated with a 20% (95% CI: 20%, 21%) increase in risk.

Especially since it was MY boat! I came on deck to see an unlit can slide by about 30 feet off the beam. I was like WTF - did you see that and then noticed the plotter zoomed out so far the buoy was under own-ship :roll_eyes:
There was a case where the track of a boat went on an absolute ruler straight line from San Diego to someplace in Mexico and hit an island with all hands lost. Some experiments with their model plotter showed if you zoomed out enough the plot the course, the island vanished. It seems whomever was supposed to be on deck fell asleep or otherwise paid no attention and Otto steered where he was told to :frowning:

The Aegean, Newport to Ensenada, 2012. US Sailing produced a report. I was unable to find a USCG report on the casualty.


Unfortunately it’s the way of the world.
Lawyers get rich by blaming people.
Lawyers get really rich by defending really rich powerful people from getting blamed.
The American legal is the best system the best you can by.
Meanwhile the British legal system has developed an entire highly profitable industry arbitrating maritime blame.

I’m not aware of the nuances of the EL Faro investigation. The lawyers for the interested parties get to have their say before a report is published. Which is normal, The corporate lawyers arguing over wording which might make the corporate client look bad is part of the process.
Even So.
The allegations about pressuring the NTSB investigators is very troubling.

The USCG guy sounds down right corrupt. Jobs for the boys. I can write what I think about this guy without breach all kinds of forum etiquette, you will just have to use your imagination to fill in the blanks.

The Capt of the El Farrow will go down in history along with some of the other worst examples. Of poor decisions ever made on the bridge of a ship. He went down with it.
Blaming him, is just the easy way for all the rest to cover their own Ass.

Unfortunately I can’t post my own experiences off the corporate culture, I don’t disagree with your remarks about Mariners. Human nature. I’ve seen it in action,
The desire to get the extra stripe often even outweighs financial desires. Add financial and the corporate entity’s get what they want.

Here in Canada we have an act referred to as Bill C 51. It’s actually come from a mining disaster about 30 years ago at Westray. I forget the details. The idea was to extend accountability to corporate Managment who decisions led to the disaster.

To my knowledge, it has never been applied. Despite several occasions where a to my lay person observations thought it should.

Perhaps I am still a naive and optimistic in my view of the MAIB NTSB and TSB despite the way the process works.

Personal experience. I have worked for large corporations. Most well known.
One small mom and pop. Not well known. It was a small tramp outfit, A bit cowboy as they say in the UK.
Oddly, I trusted The Gypo Cowboy who ran it the most. My contract with him was a handshake. He always kept his word, and always back his Masters and Chiefs to make good decisions. To do the right thing. I respected most of them. Even if they were often old reprobates.
Those who didn’t, didn’t last.

Working for larger corporate enterprise. Well? Just not the same is it.

Current corporate entity has had an unfortunate history. Which includes a couple of serious incidents involving fatalities and even the loss of vessels. I have often known those involved personally.
Fortunately I have never been on board at the time. My involvement has been the aftermath.

Some kind of embarrassment happens about once every two years.
The really bad shit appears to me to happen roughly about once every 10 years.
By my guesstimate we are getting about due. For the next really bad day.
When and where will it happen, I don’t know, who will be involved, I don’t know. Will it have been avoidable? Absolutely.

The funny thing, The really big corporates bosses, know it, and loose sleep over it.
The actual head of the corporation. Has said to me personally.
“I have nightmares about having to get up and make those phone calls again”

I know the DP, if I talk to him he will listen he is not a bad guy, he is actually quite a decent guy with a difficult job. He is not stupid. He is quite smart. Ex Navy, those guys really like the chain of command don’t they, Still he does listen. We have had some interesting conversations. We see the world in a very different way. Although we have very different points of view and back grounds, I do believe he does actually want to do the right thing.

The problem appears to me, and the big bosses appear to agree.

It’s the F wits in the middle, who often were not around the last time. It appears to take about 10 years for the majority of the middle to have forgotten or never know about about the last time.
And start saying why are we doing this, it takes to long, costs to much it’s stupid ect.

We have even repeated the exact same f ups the exact same way.

Surprisingly, I actually believe the top of the corporate food chain in this particular corporate food chain actually wants their Management teams to do the right thing.
Perhaps. I am naive.

I gone with their minions, I spoke to CG, I spoke to TC, I have spoken to Government, I watch their minions lobby for favours.
I have lobbied the opposite but don’t have any where near the influence.

I watch the regulators go out for drinks, dinners dinner, with our top guys.
Funny some of them retire and get jobs.

I guess it’s just the way the world works.

Our minister, last time I was there, is the Astronaut. I guess he was new, he let one of us ask a question.
He hasn’t done that since, now questions are much more stage managed. He only wants to say how great he and the government is.
He doesn’t like us pissing in his cornflakes.

As you can guess I didn’t speak for the corporation. I’ve retired from the role. I often felt like I was just banging my head on a brick wall and having just about as much effect.

Hey maybe it’s better in America,
You guys do seam to be less optimistic than me.

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Lawyers are lawyers. Have no ill will towards them. Ships crash into each other when one has no sense in a simple navigation problem or even worse., because they are bigger have the right of way, and perhaps looking at something else rather than the wheelhouse windows. It aint rocket science to avoid an “Accident”

Actually it is rocket science. Not most of the time (most the the time things are fairly simple) but when incidents do occur we tend to assume the situation is simpler than it actually is.

There are few organizations which have done more research to prevent incidents than nasa. Their version of BRM is far and away better than what we learn.

In fact I had this very conversation a couple years ago with Michael Edward Fossum superintendent at Texas A&M Galveston. Fossum happens to be an astronaut and told me that we still have “a LOT to learn” about crm.

One of the many BRM courses we attended was actually at NASA in Florida. Preparation and voyage planning was a key part. Had damn nice rooms. Sadly, the CEO fell asleep during the course. The Newport RI course at Flight Safety International was much more rewarding. My pop was staying in the same hotel as our “Shoreside personel” doing sea trials on Nukie subs. We were at a hotel where the rats fought over leftovers.We met my pop on assignment that just happened to be the same place management stayed at. I and the four wheelhouse dudes had a great lobster dinner with my Pop at Christies. We had the cajun captain driving our van in the snow. He had some balls, never been in snow. I am still here.

I would state that … as an active working “Maritime Pilot” (so as not to confuse the issue) … my understanding is that our legal and professional representatives in Washington DC that are engaged with the NTSB and USCG on a regular basis, are doing the same. In fact, during my last BRM-P class (one of several I have taken) we not only discuss various accidents, but the official investigation and reviews. One or two examples are picked out specifically because our APA reps disagreed with the investigation(s) assessment.

As a mariner and a Pilot, I was impressed by what I learned from this action. Now, whenever I read a NTSB report, I sometimes wonder if I am privy to all the right information and how it was presented to the industry and public. Where I once believed the “buck stops here” at the desk of some NTSB investigation team leader, now I am not always so sure.



But that DOES underscore @john point about engaging more people, before the problem even exists. We’re all talking about BRM and it’s occurrence on the bridge of a ship. But shouldn’t some “version” of this happen as others have commented here, where the E/R officers and shore staff are involved, or the cargo terminal staff doing the planning for a ship before arrival? How about the owners, designers, engineering and actual Deck and Engine officers who will man these ships? Shouldn’t there be some kind of “BRM for all”???

I am entirely unaware of any Pilot organization that was approached with the idea of handling these monster mega-ships ships BEFORE they were conceived and designed, then built. AFTER they were told “we’re coming here next year”, Pilot groups all over the world took it upon themselves to get trained to handle these ships on their own AFTER the fact.

Thats a helluva way to do things, isn’t it?



Let’s be honest about the obvious but unspoken and awkward relationship between the USCG working as a regulator today and as a potential employer tomorrow. We all see it. We all know it. How do people in the Marine Inspection Dept. bite the hands that may feed them in the future?

They are NOT all bad. But I do believe this relationship between industry regulation today and future employment post retirement tomorrow should be reviewed. Doesn’t always pass the smell test.

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Regulatory capture is a problem, it’s the nature of the beast. I’d think naming and blaming specific individuals is likely counterproductive.

The Coast Guard has a lot of good people. Robert Frump said it best, good people working in a bad system.

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A lot of GREAT people. Many of these people are as frustrated as I am. The problem is the advancement system in our government and military. Strings get pulled to get this guy a star and this woman an oversight committee job and then favors are owed. Nobody looks at where our generals and admirals and Senior Executive Service leaders land 10 years after retirement.

From the El Faro investigation report:

Usually these long term kickback options are fairly well hidden, as was the case with the Admiral who approved ACP, but increasingly it’s not hidden at all. For example what civil penalties were brought against Tote? A better question is who does the USCG officer in charge of Sector Jacksonville work for now?

I was recently talking to a very senior guy from an African nation. He was frustrated because the admirals of his navy/CG are all getting cash payments from the military-industrial complex. I said so are many American military leaders there is only one difference: we have better credit. If you want something done in Africa you need to bring cash now, but if you want something done in America you promise cash (in the form a board seat or $$$ consulting gig) in the future.


It is way past time for the citizens of the USA to take back control of the military and their industrial political influence.


Even Rocket Scientists have had some spectacularly bad accidents which could have been avoided.
The error chains went right to the top management of NASA.

They sorted the problems and then repeated the process again with similar results.

NASA was and probably still is the worlds leader in accident prevention.
If they can have disastrous accidents any one can.


Great points, John.

It’s frustrating at many levels. And I am not naive. We have all seen the ‘arrangement’ everywhere in the industry … as @Kennebec_Captain has pointed out, too.

it is everywhere.

I’m not sure what the solution is or if there even is one. Frankly, the level of experience and knowledge or wisdom is what we all WANT in our various organizations. BUT … it must be used towards a positive or beneficial outcome. Therein lies the conflict.

It a vessel owner or CEO uses that professional connection to their advantage, placing others at risk, well that’s another thing entirely. Especially if it is done knowingly and willfully.

It’s human nature, with some of us, not all. I honestly don’t know of a way to fix that or if there will ever be a solution.


I don’t think the name and blame game is entirely the best route either. But we MUST have some degree of accountability. THAT is the part where people, human nature, connects the responsibility to their actions.

It goes both ways. Gov’t service (the private sector less so) loves to give credit and recognition to their own people, through various awards, etc. But we rarely hear about failures assigned to an individual. I always point out the numerous Navy ships we acquired that have failed miserably with respect to operation, budget, and schedule. There has been no individual(s) that has had to suffer the consequences of huge poorly made decisions. Thus … these poorly made decisions get repeated over and over again, over a long period of time with numerous programs. What the humans all involved all learn is that there is no consequence if they screw up. They don’t care.

That system has to be fixed, from the bottom up, involving everyone.

The challenge is, like with drinking … you have to admit to yourself you have a problem, before you can start the process of fixing it.

The structure of our nation’s politics and the Pentagon leadership make that concept virtually impossible. I hate that it sounds so pessimistic. And I truly wish I were entirely wrong. I am NOT a pessimistic person by nature.

But that is what I see today.

IDK when I launched gCaptain I thought that forum conversations like this and honest news articles could fix things. Then I thought writing a book about it could. Or that a movie based on that book would wake people up.

Then I thought maybe our reach just wasn’t mainstream enough so I spent months helping ProPublica research their series of articles about the McCain and Fitzgerald collisions. But then they received millions of views and won the Pulitzer Prize last year (the PULITZER!) but the Navy just shrugged it off.

All we seem to accomplish is angering the assholes we write about. It doesn’t matter how much light we shine on corruption, nobody faces any consequences, nobody except guys still working aboard ship.


First, don’t ever stop what you’re doing here, John. I’m certain it may get frustrating at times. But the gCapt effort is by itself is a success as far as I am concerned and mariners everywhere will agree, I’m sure.

The ‘Forum’ is icing on the cake. What an incredible way to exchange educational and informational content in a direct and timely manner. I learn more in the forum, quickly, than from anywhere else on the internet. Period.

Second, that ProPublica series was some of the best journalism I’ve ever read. Bar none. I dream of the day when the rest of the pseudo-journalist out there may someday at least TRY to do the same level of work. But I’m not hopeful.

I had no idea you were involved but it would explain why/how the writing and content was following a specific path that lead the reader to a coherent understanding of “what the hell happened out there”

I went so far as to send an email to the writers and compliment them on the quality of their work. I never do that.

Third, any awards earned are well deserved. Take them where you can get them.

Last … the most important … remember the old saying;

“If your taking flak, you know you’re right over the target!”

If the people you are writing about are angry over what is being said/written, that means they have a concern about the content. I’m assuming you are providing them an opportunity to respond, or perhaps you should offer an opportunity for them to provide something more than just a “statement” and allow them a chance to speak, an interview (not a debate…there’s a difference) to provide depth. If they turn it down, too bad for them.

True, perhaps. But one thing this effort has accomplished is bringing the maritime community together in a way I think we may have thought about, but couldn’t pull it together.
You did. That’s huge.
I think mariners are better for it, we have a greater understanding and realization we are not alone out here with our issues. We have more in common than we realize. Everywhere. And for that we are grateful. It DOES help us individually. I believe the collective effort is that it will make our industry a better place over time.

If nothing else, perhaps we can get some of those assholes to check in here and read more often some of the issues we are discussing. If they learn something to improve themselves or in doing their job … you’ve succeeded. We may never know. But it’s a start.

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