MYNORTHWEST NEWS

NTSB probe: Captain was asleep at the wheel during ’22 ferry crash

Oct 12, 2023, 3:23 PM | Updated: 3:44 pm

ferry crash...

One of the scariest stories of the year happened in July when the ferry Cathlamet slammed into the Fauntleroy Dock in West Seattle. (KIRO 7)

(KIRO 7)

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found human error was to blame for the crash of a Washington State Ferries (WSF) vessel with 94 people on board.

There was only one minor injury, but the crash cost $10.6 million in damages to the boat and the piling (called a dolphin).

The Cathlamet had crossed the Puget Sound and was approaching the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal on July 28, 2022, when it struck the ferry terminal dolphin.

Officially, the NTSB reported fatigue and complacency of the master was to blame.

The master, who had the helm, stopped rudder commands about 30 seconds before the contact. The master did not take any action to correct the ferry’s course, slow down or sound the alarm before the contact. He also did not recall what happened and seemed unaware of how the ferry ended up striking the dolphin.

Investigators found these events were all consistent with incapacitation from a microsleep, a brief period of sleep lasting a few seconds, due to fatigue.

Related story: WSF blames ship captain for Cathlamet ferry crash

“Fatigue affects all aspects of human performance, including decision-making, alertness, and reaction time,” NTSB investigators said in the final report. “Mariners should understand the performance effects of sleep loss and recognize the dangers of fatigue, such as microsleeps. When affected by fatigue, mariners should arrange for a qualified watchstander to serve in their place and avoid being on duty when unable to safely carry out their responsibilities.”

The captain of the ferry that day resigned several days after the accident, according to a spokesperson for Washington State Ferries (WSF) in 2022. His identity was not released.

The NTSB also found the Cathlamet bridge team exhibited complacency by not complying with Washington State Ferries’ policies when undocking and docking the ferry. The Cathlamet quartermaster did not actively monitor the master as the ferry approached the dock, as required by company policy. Had he done so, he could have quickly taken the helm when the master became incapacitated.

“Complacency occurs when operators repeatedly complete a task without consequence, desensitizing them to its inherent risk,”  the report said. “To combat complacency, operators should comply with procedures, such as operating checklists, that are in place to prevent single points of failure, and companies should train operators on the importance of following procedures.”

Chokepoints: What’s next for WSF after the Colman Dock

The NTSB said fatigue is often a factor in casualties it investigates. It said complacency is also often a problem when tasks are often repeated.

Drug and alcohol tests for the entire crew came back negative shortly after the incident, a ferry spokesperson said in 2022.

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NTSB probe: Captain was asleep at the wheel during ’22 ferry crash