Photo of the Massive Tide by Kenny Polson.

While undertaking other activities on the web a few years ago I came upon an Australian Government accident report concerning the grounding of the Massive Tide on the coast of western Australia. The accident was minor. There were no injuries except for a few red faces, and very limited damage to the ship. But as usual there are lessons to be learnt.


Over the years I have campaigned – unsuccessfully – for a change in attitude of deck officers serving on offshore support vessels. I have suggested that they should stop setting course directly for oil rigs, so that if they become inattentive, or for some reason go below, forgetting why they were on the bridge, or fall asleep, they will not be brought back to reality by the grinding of metal as their craft embeds itself in some completely innocent offshore structure. But the Massive Tide accident did not involve an oil rig, it involved an island.

The summary of the accident investigation states that at 0445 in the morning the while travelling at 9.8 knots the ship grounded on a shoal on the western coast of Rosemary Island, in the approaches to Dampier Western Australia.. The weather was fine and the visibility was about eight miles.

The ship left Dampier at 1400 on 28th August 2006, and arrived at the Ensco 106 at 1950. For the duration of the passage the Second Mate had been on watch, and when the ship arrived at the rig he called the Master and remained on the bridge to operate the bulk system. The report says that the Master took over the watch. But one of the problems with the old UT704, and maybe other Norwegian built support vessels is that the bulk operating system is situated on the bridge and is normally operated by one of the deck officers. This is as an alternative to it being in the engine room and operated by the engine men.

So, the Second Mate took the watch to get out to the rig, and remained up there for the transfer of the bulk cargo at the rig which was completed at 2315. At that time the Master suggested that he go down until midnight, but since he was due back at that time he elected to carry on. Hence the Master suggested that he call the Mate before 0400 which was his planned hand-over.

At 0100 the ship was released by the rig with the Second Mate and the lookout on the bridge. The Second Mare set the course at 129 degrees, and recorded a GPS position in the log book at 0200 and 0400, and since the ship was to arrive at the Dampier Sea Buoy before 0500 he decided to leave the Mate in bed. But at 0445 the ship ground to a halt on the shoal.

The nub of the problem was that the second Mate had read a course 129 degrees off the GPS which was the one directly to the last waypoint at the berth, rather than the 119 degrees required get the ship to the fairway buoy. And rather than plotting the position on the chart at 0200 and 0400, which would have instantly identified the error, he chose just to write the position in the log book. Surely this would be the equivalent to making a small cross in the log and appending the statement “you are here”. The report does not really tell us why the Second Mate failed to identify the light on Rosemary Island, but it did suggest that the ship’s management of its watch periods was less than efficient.

The reason for the rather curious watch periods was that the Master and the Mate both had driving experience, while the Second Mate was still learning, so he was to do the transits and the other to do the port and rig times. Why then did he remain on the bridge to look after the bulk discharge? Could the lookout have done the job? Might the Captain have done a bit of transit watchkeeping?

Within the detail of the report is the fact that the Second Mate was unfamiliar with the radar, and had set it up, so he thought to enhance possible targets, but there was a lot of clutter. When the Master adjusted the radar after the collision the clutter turned out to be Rosemary Island. You could not make it up! And it may be that the lesson to be learnt is to manage ones watchkeeping time efficiently to limit the possibility of fatigue.

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