On June 5, 2021, about 1608 local time, the high-speed catamaran passenger ferry Commodore was transiting northbound on the East River near Bushwick Inlet off Brooklyn, New York, when the vessel lost primary steering and speed control to both of its port hull water jets and then grounded. One minor injury was reported among the 7 crewmembers and 107 passengers on board. The vessel was later refloated and drydocked for repair. No pollution was reported. Damage to the vessel was estimated at $2.5 million.
We determined that the probable cause of the grounding of the passenger ferry Commodore was the loss of the primary control system for the catamaran’s port water jets and propulsion engines due to a flaw in the system manufacturer’s software causing a memory card failure. Contributing to the casualty was the company’s lack of clear safety management system procedures for primary control system failure and ineffective oversight of crew training on failure modes for loss of propulsion and steering control, resulting in the captain not identifying the nature of the loss of control and either engaging back-up control or using emergency engine shutdowns to stop the vessel.
Training for Loss of Propulsion and Steering
The loss of propulsion and steering control while transiting in channels or maneuvering near immediate hazards (grounding, traffic, objects), when response time is critical, demands crewmembers act quickly to mitigate potential casualties. Safety management systems should identify potential failure modes and specific responses. Effective company training on the loss of propulsion and steering controls builds crew confidence and proficiency and improves a crew’s ability to respond during an actual emergency. Training should include requirements for the practical demonstration of loss of control procedures and use of emergency back-up systems. Vessel owners and operators should continuously evaluate training programs to ensure effectiveness of drills and implement changes to improve safety management system procedures.