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Marine Safety Information Letter 01/20

21 May 2020

Director, Marine Services
Transportation and Works
440 Main Street
Lewisporte NL A0G 3A0

Re :

Marine Safety Information Letter 01/20 (occurrence M20A0048)
Early notification of search and rescue authorities of developing situations

On 10 February 2020, at approximately 1500 local time, the passenger vehicle ferry Veteran, with 48 people on board, make bottom contact approximately 36 m northeast of the vehicle loading ramp at Farewell, Newfoundland and Labrador. The ferry backed away from the loading ramp, pumped out ballast water, and waited 90 minutes for the tide to rise before returning to the dock at about 1630 without further incident. The Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) was not notified of the situation at the time of the occurrence. No injuries were reported.

In accordance with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) Occurrence Classification Policy, the circumstances of this incident were assessed, and the occurrence was classified as a Class 5. Consequently, TSB activity was limited to the collection of data, which has been recorded for safety analysis, statistical reporting, and archival purposes. The following paragraphs contain safety-related information derived during the assessment of this occurrence.

At the time of the occurrence, the tide level was low. As the Veteran moved toward the loading ramp, the vessel’s forward movement stopped. The master then moved the vessel astern into deeper water, and the hull scraped the bottom as the vessel moved. A quantity of ballast water was pumped from the ballast tanks, which combined with the rising tide increased the under keel clearance, allowing the vessel to secure at the loading ramp without further incident.

Immediately after securing at the dock, the master contacted Transport Canada and the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) to inform them of the situation. The CCG was not notified of the occurrence.

The TSB regularly receives notifications from the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) of reports that are made to the CCG through a Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS) Centre. 
The TSB became aware of the occurrence on 26 February 2020, when it received a Report of a Marine Occurrence Form from the vessel detailing the event. The TSB was not immediately made aware of this occurrence as no report was made to the CCG .  According to the CCG’s Annual Edition of Notices to Mariners # 29A:

mariners should immediately notify the Canadian Coast Guard, through any Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centre, of any situation which is or may be developing into a more serious situation [emphasis added] requiring assistance from the Search and Rescue (SAR) System. The need for the earliest possible alerting of SAR Authorities to potential maritime emergencies cannot be over-emphasized.  

Waiting until a situation has deteriorated into an imminent emergency before alerting SAR authorities reduces the time available for SAR resources to initiate and affect a successful response. While it is important for all vessels to immediately alert SAR authorities of an occurrence, including the situation detailed above, it is even more important for passenger vessels carrying large numbers of passengers who are unfamiliar with and untrained in marine emergency response.

The TSB has investigated other occurrences involving passenger vessels, where there was a delay in, or absence of notification to the CCG that an incident took place. Footnote 1 Notably in 2015, the TSB investigated another occurrence involving a Department of Transportation and Works ferry. On 21 January 2015, the passenger ferry Grace Sparkes was transiting the harbour channel at Burnside, Newfoundland and Labrador, when it struck Burnside Rock. The vessel continued its voyage and docked at Burnside before contacting MCTS about the occurrence. The TSB investigation into the Grace Sparkes Footnote 2  occurrence determined that the company’s safety management system contained guidance to report groundings and bottom contact to the CCG by the quickest means available. Similarly, a contingency plan for grounding instructed masters to advise the CCG and other traffic in the area.

This occurrence involving the Veteran, and other occurrences involving passenger vessels demonstrate that without increased awareness of the need to immediately notify SAR authorities of a developing situation, occurrences may continue to go unreported.

The foregoing is provided for whatever follow-up action is deemed appropriate. The TSB would appreciate being advised of any action that is taken in this regard, and an investigator may follow up with you at a later date.

As the identified safety issue associated with this occurrence (M20A0048) has been brought to your attention and consideration, is it anticipated that an investigation report will not be issued.

Yours sincerely,

Original signed by

Clifford Harvey
Director, Marine Investigations
Transportation Safety Board of Canada