The National Transportation Safety Board has released its report on the June 9, 2021 sinking of the fishing vessel Sage Catherine Lane. During the incident, the boat grounded on the north jetty of the St. Marys River south of Cumberland Island, Georgia. After grounding, the boat began taking on water before sinking. One crew member sustained injuries in the incident.
The NTSB’s report documents a prior incident involving the boat’s autopilot:
The vessel autopilot’s reliability was brought into question 2 days before the casualty, when the captain was unable to disengage the autopilot and gain control of the helm as the vessel was proceeding into St. Augustine. Following that incident, the captain examined the autopilot system and found problems with the rudder angle indicator and rudder angle sensor at the rudder post. He straightened the bent rudder angle indicator lever and secured in place the loose rudder angle sensor that provided the autopilot with the rudder position.
The probable cause of the incident was directly related to the defective autopilot:
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the grounding of the fishing vessel Sage Catherine Lane was the captain’s decision to leave the wheelhouse unattended as the vessel transited the St. Marys Entrance on autopilot, leaving insufficient time to respond when the autopilot failed and caused the vessel to go off the set course.
The NTSB also stressed that the use of autopilot does not relieve a captain of responsibility to safely navigate his or her vessel:
Lessons Learned: Safe Navigation with Autopilot
Autopilot use does not relieve the operator of responsibility to conduct a proper navigation watch. Use of autopilot should not be a justification for an operator to leave the wheelhouse or bridge unattended in confined waters. Navigating in channels and harbors requires quicker reaction times due to traffic, currents encountered, and frequent course changes, and more rudder due to slower speeds. Therefore, autopilot use is often discouraged or prohibited in a harbor entrance or narrow channel.
The incident shows the importance of properly maintained equipment on a boat. Regulations require vessels to have certain equipment and be configured in a specific manner in order to prevent incidents like this from ever occurring. It can be dangerous to work in any industry when safety considerations are not taken seriously. This is especially so when working on a large ship. Safe maritime companies must ensure that their ships do not put the lives of their crew members at risk. Safe maritime companies must be proactive and take preventative measures, including regular maintenance and repairs, as well as ensuring its crew members are adequately trained.
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The experienced and aggressive vessel accident attorneys at Spagnoletti Law Firm can help you understand your rights if you or a loved one was a victim of a maritime disaster. There are strict and short time limits on making claims related to maritime injuries, so please contact us online or call 713-804-9306 or 877-678-5864 to learn more about your rights.