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9/9/2017
Multiple factors in ship incident

By ZACHARY HALASCHAK
Daily News Staff Writer

“Why are all those people running?”

Profanities can be heard amongst a cacophony of concerned voices in a viral video of the Celebrity Cruises ship Infinity filmed slowly smashing into a Ketchikan dock on June 3 of last year.

The video, which has some two million views on YouTube, shows the 90,000-ton ship approaching the dock at an unusual rate of speed before slamming into Berth 3, causing damage in excess of $1.1 million, but thankfully no injuries.

Following the crash there were more questions than answers.

The incident was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard, which later completed its “MISLE Incident Investigation Report.” The Daily News filed a Freedom of Information Act request, and obtained a partially redacted copy of the report.

The report reveals that the allision was not the result of one factor, but rather, a perfect storm of execution, environmental, logistical and planning errors.

Of note, an “allision” is different than a “collision.” In maritime nomenclature a collision is when two moving objects strike each other and an allision is when just one of the objects is moving, as was the case with the Infinity.

The Coast Guard redacted all names of the individuals who were on the Infinity’s bridge, but the report does delineate a clear and precise minute-by-minute timeline of the events and circumstances leading up to the 1:54 p.m. crash.

The afternoon of June 3, 2016, was a windy one — wind speeds were averaging 26 mph, with gusts coming in at nearly 45 mph. According to the report, that wind was a critical variable in the Infinity incident.

There were six miles of visibility that day, the current was less than 0.5 mph, and the National Weather Service was reporting isolated showers. According to the report, of all the potential environmental factors considered, “only the winds had bearing on the allision.”

At 1:10 p.m., and about 10 nautical miles from Berth 3, the master assumed command of the vessel as it sailed southbound toward Ketchikan.

Ten minutes later, at 1:20 p.m., the three primary individuals involved with controlling the vessel — the master, staff captain and the pilot — discussed weather conditions and docking procedures as the ship headed southbound in the Tongass Narrows. Around that time they made the determination that the docking would proceed as planned.

At 1:48 p.m. the staff captain took control of the “conning station,” which is the part of the ship on the bridge used to command movement of the vessel. According to the report, the staff captain “had been on the bridge for at least 30 minutes” prior to assuming control of the ship’s movements.

At approximately 1:51 p.m., three minutes before the allision, the bridge team noticed that the Infinity was approaching at excessive speeds. It was then that allision avoidance attempts began. According to the report, “during avoidance attempts the master, staff captain, and pilot all utilized the vessel’s azipod and bow thruster controls.”

At 1:52 p.m. the staff captain decided to drop the ship’s starboard anchor in an attempt to slow the vessel’s approach.

At 1:54 allision avoidance attempts proved unsuccessful and the Infinity hit Berth 3 traveling at a speed of two knots. The sound of metal bending, groaning and snapping can be heard in the video upon impact.

The power of the allision immediately resulted in considerable damage to the berth. According to the report, there were “fractures on both barge float mooring dolphins, an inset on one corner of the barge float, damage to the fender panel assembly and deformed/collapsed catwalks and ladders.”

Following investigation into the allision, the Coast Guard concluded that no singular individual was at fault and no singular process failed.

For one, given the strong winds, the vessel’s master stated that he would have liked two tugboats to assist with docking, but, according to the report, “the master of the p/v Celebrity Infinity had no knowledge of the Port of Ketchikan’s tug assist capabilities. The possibility of utilizing tugs was not discussed with the pilot.”

Also, another cruise ship — Holland America Line’s Zaandam — was moored at Berth 4, only 90 yards away. This limited the Infinity’s stern movement capabilities and made allision avoidance more difficult.

Furthermore, the report outlines how when it became apparent that the Infinity was approaching the dock at an elevated rate of speed, “the master, the staff captain and the pilot all adjusted controls during allision/collision avoidance without communicating roles.”

The report also indicated that drugs/alcohol did not play a role in the allision.

The crew certainly was not green either. The master had worked on similar vessels since 2001, the staff captain since 2003, and the pilot had maintained his endorsement since 2004, according to the report.

The report received by the Daily News offered no enforcement referrals or safety recommendations to any of the individuals involved.

"The causal factors of the allision were determined to be significant wind gusts during the approach, restricted vessel movements limiting abort capabilities, lack of crew knowledge of tug assist availability, and the vessel's approach speed was too fast. No fault was determined on the part of the pilot, a U.S. licensed mariner."

Since the incident, both Berth 3 and the ship have been repaired. After more than a year, it would appear that the only major difference is that two million more people might have heard of Ketchikan via YouTube.

As this was being written Friday, the Infinity was docked in Ketchikan within sight of the Daily News office.

This time it’s tied up at Berth 1, though.