Joel Milton has worked aboard fishing boats, pilot boats, Coast Guard cutters and small boats, dredge tenders, offshore crewboats and supply boats, towing vessels, a small container ship, and a wide variety of small craft including an inflatable yellow “ducky” The Piker. He currently works on a tug-barge transporting black oil around the Northeast U.S.
On the Water
Operating in the fog can kill
October 22, 2012
in 2004, I wrote a column in WorkBoat
about how dangerous it can be when operating in the fog. I think it is time to
revisit this important issue.
ago I worked on a large crew-supplier in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s when I
learned that operating in the fog is often taken for granted.
believe that operating safely and efficiently in the fog is merely a function
of using the radar, along with the GPS and/or the chart plotter, to go from
Point A to Point B. It’s as simple as that. As long as the magic navigational
boxes are working, operating in the fog is considered to be on a par with
playing a not particularly challenging video game.
is a dangerous way to approach operating a vessel in less-than-perfect visibility.
one of the major oil company bases in Venice, La., there were numerous
occasions when helicopter pilots would refuse to fly out for crew changes in
zero or near-zero visibility conditions. This was common practice for the
pilots in the late winter and early spring, when fog tends to be at its worst.
The oncoming offshore crews would promptly disembark the helicopters and drive
back across the road. With their bags, scores of oilfield crews would roll up
the gangway and into the crewboat’s cabin. The oil company’s dispatcher assumed
that we would now do what the helicopter’s pilots wouldn’t — transport the
offshore workers in reduced visibility conditions.
dispatchers would see no contradiction in this. The pressure was on to get the
workers to the job site, fog or no fog.
the Mississippi River is a very dangerous place to be running around with a
boatload of passengers when visibility is lousy. And perhaps no stretch of the
Mississippi is as bad as between Venice and the Southwest Pass. The Pass is the
chokepoint for all deep-draft traffic and many oilfield boats.
February 2004, the crew of the 178-foot OSV Lee III found this out the hard way when it collided with the
534-foot containership Zim Mexico III. Five mariners lost their lives.
managers should back up their captains and mates when they say no to a customer’s
foolish demand to operate when the fog is too heavy.