Cruise ends in tragedy…

In November 2001, the 12m sloop Toolka T was returning to her home port in New Zealand following a four month cruise.  At 4am, the helmsperson (and sole crew on watch) determined that her vessel was on a reciprocal course to a power-driven vessel.  She later admitted that she saw that the power-driven vessel was exhibiting other lights apart from a sidelight and masthead light, but did not know what they signified, and assumed it was a fishing vessel.  The helmsperson had 27 years experience crewing on coastal and offshore sailing vessels. 

Following a series of manoeuvres, the vessels passed starboard to starboard.  The helmsperson on the yacht monitored the passing vessel closely to determine when it would be safe to pass behind the vessel and resume her original course.  Deciding she was well past the vessel, she turned to starboard.

The other vessel was in fact the tug Wainui, towing a 40.7m, 547 tonne barge, the Sea Tow II, with length of tow 500m (and was displaying the correct lights!).  As the yacht Toolka T crossed astern of Wainui, her keel became fouled in the submerged towline and the yacht started to lose way.  The helmsperson shouted for assistance and was joined by two other crew members, who saw the Sea Tow II heading right for the yacht.  Despite their efforts to avoid collision, the Toolka T struck the bow of the barge and within a few seconds of the collision, sunk beneath the Sea Tow II.  The helmsperson and two other crew were rescued, but her partner, the skipper of the yacht and an experienced blue water yachtsman, did not survive. 

The Maritime Safety investigation sites the following factors contributing to this tragic outcome:

The helmsperson of the Toolka T did not correctly identify the vessel as a tug (by identifying lights as defined in Rule 24) and so was not alert to the presence of a towed vessel.  She also was not keeping an adequate lookout (Rule 5), or would have seen both sidelights of the barge and realised that by turning to starboard she was moving into a collision situation.  After determining that collision was imminent, the yacht's crew did not attempt to signal the tug by radiotelephone or by sounding the danger signal (Rule 34).

The crew of the tug Wainui also contributed to the tragic outcome of this collision by their failure to determine at an early stage that risk of collision existed (Rule 7), failure to take action to avoid collision (Rule 8), and failure to operate the horn, spotlight, or tow line floodlights to warn Toolka T of danger or to sound five short rapid blasts as required by Rule 34.  Just prior to collision, it is likely that the Wainui was also the give-way vessel in a crossing situation (Rule 15). 

Source: Maritime Safety Authority of New Zealand

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