SYNOPSIS - At 1515 on 14 July 2014, the Bahamas registered ro-ro passenger ferry Commodore Clipper grounded on a charted, rocky shoal in the approaches to St Peter Port, Guernsey. No-one was injured, there was no pollution and the vessel continued its passage into the harbour. However, there was significant raking damage including breaches of the hull resulting in flooding of double-bottom void spaces.
The grounding caused a noisy, shuddering vibration that reverberated throughout the ship, but the crew did not check for damage, no external report was made and no safety announcements were made to the passengers. Once alongside in St Peter Port, cargo discharge, reloading and a lifeboat drill went ahead as planned. However, a pre-planned divers’ inspection of the hull soon discovered damage and the vessel was withdrawn from service.
The investigation found that there had been insufficient passage planning for the voyage; in particular, for the transit through the Little Russel, the extremely low tide and effect of squat were not properly considered. This resulted in the bridge team being unaware of the limits of safe water available and thus, despite their good positional awareness, they headed into danger without appreciation of the risk. Several course alterations intended to regain track were ineffective due to the tidal stream setting the vessel off course. Additionally,the absence of any alarm, steering and propulsion responding normally, and the master’s conviction that there had been sufficient depth of water, led to a collective denial of the possibility that the vessel might have grounded.
The company’s approved route for use through the Little Russel was not followed and the vessel’s electronic chart display and information system was not utilised effectively because key safety features were either disabled or ignored. It was also established that Guernsey Harbours did not have an effective safety management system for the conduct of pilotage within its statutory area.
Safety recommendations have been made to Condor Marine Services Limited and the Government of Guernsey designed to ensure appropriate levels of proficiency in the conduct of safe navigation.