NTSB cites fatigue in Alaska ferry grounding

The most likely cause of a 2004 ferry accident in Alaska was fatigue, according to federal investigators.

The LeConte, a 217’ Alaska Marine Highway System ferry, was en route from Angoon to Sitka when the accident occurred. During the trip, the master and the chief mate decided to alter the course of a turn around the northwest corner of Duffield Peninsula on Baranof Island. Instead of going outside two small islands and a marked reef, the officers decided to take a more scenic route between the islands and the peninsula. 

A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation found that a line had been drawn on the LeConte’s chart showing a route inside the islands and reef. However, the master and mate may have waited for a barge tow to pass before making the turn. When they did alter course, they were no longer following either the original course or the one drawn on the chart.

According to the NTSB report, “Neither the chief mate nor the master recognized that the 226º course headed the vessel to the right of the daymark for Cozian Reef and on a course toward the reef. The vessel, steering a course of 226º at about 15.5 knots, grounded on Cozian Reef about 0955.” The weather was good and visibility was clear.

The grounding tore two long holes in the hull on each side of the keel, which caused “serious flooding.” No one was seriously injured during the grounding or the evacuation of the vessel. 

The NTSB report said that the probable cause of the accident was the failure of the master and mate to recognize that the course set by the mate would send the boat onto the reef. 

“Contributing to the loss of awareness of the navigation situation was the fatigue of the conning officer, the chief mate, who had a significant sleep deficit because of work accomplished off watch in addition to standing a six-hour watch routine.” 

The report also noted that the master’s 96-hour work/rest history indicated more rest than the mate’s. The master’s rest periods were numerous but brief, only about four hours at a time. 

Had the LeConte followed the alternate route marked on the chart, the NTSB found that the “line could be acceptable routing inside Cozian Reef and Otstoia Island.” — Bruce Buls  

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