A skipper has been criticised for failing to act after he spotted a 3,000 tonne cargo ship bearing down on him – as he relieved himself off the side of his tanker.
Cargo ship Daroja and tanker Erin Wood collided in broad daylight last year, off the coast of Peterhead.
Now the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has published a report into the incident, outlining a catalogue of errors that put the lives of two crew in “grave danger”.
The Erin Wood heeled over 90 degrees and water rushed in – leaving the deckhand in the mess room fully submerged in seawater while the skipper escaped from the flooded bridge through an open window.
The Cyprus-registered Daroja sustained minor damage.
In the report, investigators claim neither watchman was paying sufficient attention to realise they were on a “collision course” on August 29 last year.
They also concluded the crew of Erin Wood were not “suitably qualified” to handle a small tanker and that the Buckie-based operators had put “commercial gain ahead of safety at sea”.
The Cyprus-registered Daroja – operated by United Shipping Companies (USC) – was making a routine trip from Aberdeen to Lerwick when it collided with and tore a hole in the hull of Erin Wood.
The MAIB report reveals that neither the skipper of Erin Wood – who spotted Daroja while relieving himself off the side of his boat – nor the cargo ship’s chief officer took action to change course.
The barge, which had been bound for Scrabster from North Shields, rapidly began flooding and leaking fuel.
When a lifeboat crew from Peterhead arrived on the scene the two crew members of the St Kitts and Nevis-registered tanker were desperately pumping water out of the vessel to prevent it capsizing.
The 78ft tanker was towed into harbour where a seaman with 40 years of experience described the drama as the “scariest” ordeal of his career.
In his report, MAIB’s chief inspector Steve Clinch said: “On August 29, 2015, in daylight and good visibility, the cargo ship Daroja and the bunker barge Erin Wood collided east of Peterhead.
“Erin Wood’s crew was put in danger and damage to the vessel resulted in some minor pollution.”
Mr Clinch found that the collision was caused by “low standards of watchkeeping” on both ships.
“Neither of the officers on watch was keeping lookout, so both were unaware of the other ship on a collision course,” he said.
The chief officer of the Daroja was using his phone and reading paperwork in the moments before the collision.
Mr Clinch found that the chief officer was distracted and not paying attention because of the repetitiveness of his job and the route.
Other findings of the investigation include that the crew of Erin Wood were not “suitably qualified” to handle a small tanker and that then Buckie-based operators Northern Oils “prioritised commercial gain ahead of safety at sea”.
Mr Clinch said the firm was inexperienced at managing industrial vessels like Erin Wood.
Shortly after last year’s collision Northern Oils went into administration. The lubricant arm and trading name of the firm was subsequently bought by Aztec Oils Ltd. The branch which handled Erin Wood no longer exists.
The MAIB report notes USC has carried out a safety review including issuing guidance about the use of mobile phones aboard its ships.
Further recommendations have been made to USC to improve the way watch duty is conducted.
Last night Captain Jan Breuer, speaking from Germany on behalf of USC, said: “We consider the recommendations in the MAIB report as very helpful for improving our safety management system.
“We will revise our system accordingly in due time.”
A spokeswoman for the newly-formed Northern Oils said: “Northern Oils Scotland Ltd have since adopted the trading name of Northern Oils however do not own or operate any marine assets and are focused solely on supply of lubricants to the UK and European markets.”