The Washington state ferry captain lost situational awareness before the hard landing, an investigation has found

The captain of a Washington State Ferry lost situational awareness before encountering a pod of dolphins offshore on arrival at a terminal in southwest Seattle internal investigation has revealed.

The MV Kathlamet collided with the South Dolphin at approximately 081347 on 28 July 2022 while on a scheduled voyage between Vashon Island Ferry Terminal and Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal.

At the time of the Alliance, Captain of the Watch Fauntleroy/Vashon Southworth (FVS) was navigating F Kathlamet. The ship was operated in accordance with USCG requirements with a full deck and engine crew. On board were an additional captain, a mate and several seamen from the FVS-H watch.

Photo courtesy US Coast Guard

Despite clear weather and negligible wind at low tide, the MV Kathlamet did not slow down as it approached Fauntleroy Dock. The watch captain of the FVS H took control of the ship shortly after the collision and docked it at the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal. All crew members evaluated the passengers and each other before beginning passenger offloading. A passenger suffered minor injuries and a vehicle was damaged and could not be immediately removed from the ship.

An investigation by the US Coast Guard/National Transportation Safety Board and the WSF found that all machinery and control systems were functioning as designed. Mandatory drug and alcohol tests conducted 2 1/2 hours after the collision showed no drug or alcohol use.

Damage to the Cathlamet ferry. Photo courtesy of Timothy Couch/Twitter

The WSF investigation focused on several areas including whether the captain was in the wheelhouse at the time of the incident and whether a mechanical malfunction contributed. The investigation found that the captain was present and at the helm of the ship at the time of the incident and mechanical problems were ruled out as the cause.

Statements and recommendations were made based on the results of the investigation. It was recommended that the WSF training standards for deck officers be reinstated to conform to internationally recognized standards for ship bridge watchkeeping. Bridge Resource Management (BRM) has been identified as an essential part of this training which reinforces the roles, responsibilities and rights each member of the Navigational Watch has towards themselves and their Shipmates.

It was also recommended that Voyage Data Recorders (VDR) be installed on all ships to eliminate confusion as to what happened during emergencies. With a robust VDR system, every incident has conclusive information about what was said by whom, what the facility was doing at the time, what navigation commands were given and when.

The report concluded that the captain lost situational awareness upon landing the ship and his loss of situational awareness was the primary cause of the incident. The reasons for this loss of situational awareness are unknown and a matter of speculation, as drug and alcohol tests came back negative and the captain refused to answer questions during the investigation. It was recommended that operations management strengthen the WSF BRM policy after its implementation and appropriately monitor and report work performance issues on assigned vessels.

Separate investigations by the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board are ongoing.

The internal investigation report can found here.

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