A cargo boat was left stranded for a week in the Pentland Firth off Caithness after the night-time watch officer was distracted by watching music videos on his mobile phone.
A report by marine accident investigators also said it was possible the watch officer had fallen asleep periodically before the Dutch-registered Priscilla ran aground on the Pentland Skerries at 4.43am on July 18 last year.
It was seven days before the ship – with six crew and carrying a 3,300-tonne cargo of fertiliser from Lithuania to England – was refloated and taken to safety in Orkney.
The high-level incident caused major disruption to shipping in the Pentland Firth and sparked fears of pollution – but most of the fertiliser onboard was eventually removed.
The Marine Accident Investigation Bureau (MAIB), in a highly-critical report being published today, has made a number of recommendations to the owner of the vessel and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).
The report stated that the watchman, a 23-year-old Dutch national, had had two cans of beer with his meal hours earlier.
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The report said: “Although the maritime officer had taken some rest before taking over as Officer of the Watch (OOW), he had consumed alcohol and was suffering anxiety and restlessness.
“When on watch, the maritime officer was seated and alone in darkness on the bridge. All of these factors combined to create a very high risk of the OOW falling asleep.
“The OOW then sat in the bridge chair and started watching music videos on his mobile phone. Seated and alone on the bridge in the middle of the night was an environment that created a very high risk of the OOW falling asleep, and it is possible that he did so periodically between about 2.30am and 4am.”
Priscilla departed from Klaipeda, Lithuania, on July 14 last year bound for England.
The 292ft cargo ship ran aground four days later on the Pentland Skerries in “calm waters and good visibility”.
It took seven days, after a partial removal of cargo, to refloat her and take her to the “safer waters” of Scapa Flow.
The grounding caused significant hull damage but there was no pollution or injury to the crew.
The MAIB investigators said: “When the OOW realised that Priscilla was off track, there was ample time to regain the planned route.
“Instead, the OOW chose an alternative route that placed the vessel in imminent danger. This happened because he relied solely on radar data and did not refer to navigational information when making this critical decision.”
The grounding threw the master of the vessel from his bunk, the report said.
Since the grounding, the MCA has taken steps to improve the standards of vessel traffic monitoring in Pentland Firth.
Additionally, Priscilla’s owner – not named in the report – has updated onboard procedures.
But the MAIB said: “Nevertheless, a safety recommendation has been made to the owner to take further steps intended to improve standards of watchkeeping.”
The coastguard and the boat’s owner were contacted for comment.