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MASTER'S POOR DECISION LED TO GROUNDING OF PASSENGER VESSEL EMPRESS OF THE NORTH, NTSB DETERMINES



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                      NTSB PRESS RELEASE
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National Transportation Safety Board
Washington, DC 20594

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 23, 2008
SB-08-34

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MASTER'S POOR DECISION LED TO GROUNDING OF PASSENGER
VESSEL EMPRESS OF THE NORTH, NTSB DETERMINES

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Washington, DC - The National Transportation Safety Board 
has determined that the probable cause of the grounding of 
the Empress of the North was the failure of the officer of 
the watch and the helmsman to navigate the turn at Rocky 
Island, which resulted from the master's decision to assign 
an inexperienced, newly licensed junior third mate to the 
bridge watch from midnight to 4:00 a.m.  The third mate was 
not familiar with the route, the vessel's handling 
characteristics, or the equipment on the vessel's bridge.

"The flawed decision making in this accident created the 
potential for a catastrophic disaster," said NTSB Chairman 
Mark V. Rosenker.  "Those in leadership positions need to 
make sure they consider every option possible when making 
critical decisions that could put lives at risk."

On May 14, 2007, the 300-foot passenger vessel Empress of 
the North, operated by Majestic America Line, grounded on a 
charted rock at the intersection of Lynn Canal and Icy 
Strait in southeastern Alaska, about 20 miles southwest of 
Juneau.  The vessel was negotiating a turn west out of Lynn 
Canal into Icy Strait on its way to Glacier Bay, the next 
stop on a 7-day cruise, carrying 206 passengers and 75 
crewmembers.  The vessel struck the rock, known as Rocky 
Island, which was illuminated by a flashing green navigation 
light.

Passengers and crewmembers were evacuated safely without 
injuries.  The vessel sustained damage to its starboard 
underside and propulsion system.

In the report adopted yesterday, the Board noted that 
because of the senior third mate's illness, the master 
replaced him with the new junior third mate for the 
midnight-to-4:00 a.m. watch.  The third mate held an 
unlimited, any-ocean third officer's license but had never 
before stood watch on the vessel or traveled the waters of 
Lynn Canal.   

The master had ample time to consider the watchkeeping 
assignment, the Board stated.  However, the Safety Board 
investigators found no evidence that the master considered 
other options and did little to prepare the junior third 
mate for his first underway watch.

The third mate lacked any knowledge of the route and should 
not have been left to make this critical maneuver on his 
own, the Board said.  The Safety Board concluded that the 
master jeopardized the vessel's safety by allowing the third 
mate to stand a bridge watch before he was familiar with the 
route and the bridge equipment.

As a result of its investigation of this accident, the 
Safety Board recommended that state and U. S. maritime 
academies use the circumstances of the accident to teach 
students about their responsibilities as newly licensed 
officers.  The Safety Board also recommended that the 
Passenger Vessel Association inform its members about the 
circumstances of the accident.

A synopsis of the Board's report, including the 
probable cause and recommendations, is available on the 
NTSB's website, www.ntsb.gov, under "Board Meetings." The 
Board's full report will be available on the website in 
several weeks.

			- 30 -

NTSB Media Contact:	Keith Holloway
			(202) 314-6144
			hollowk@xxxxxxxx







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