By ZACHARY HALASCHAK
Daily News Staff Writer
On June 3 of 2016, the Celebrity Cruises ship Infinity smashed into Ketchikan’s Berth 3 while coming in to dock, causing more than $1 million dollars in damage to the berth.
A new federal National Transportation Safety Board report about the incident adds to the previous U.S. Coast Guard’s “MISLE Incident Investigation Report,” which the Daily News obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
In September, the Daily News published a story based on the Coast Guard’s heavily redacted summary report.
The Coast Guard report concluded that the accident resulted from a combination of factors, and did not place blame on any one individual, entity or operation.
“The causal factors of the allision were determined to be significant wind gusts during the approach, restricted vessel movements limiting abort capabilities, lack of crew knowledge of tug assist availability, and the vessel’s approach speed was too fast,” the report reads.
The NTSB report goes a step beyond the Coast Guard’s report in placing the probable cause in the accident directly on the vessel’s master.
“The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the Celebrity Infinity’s allison with the dock was the master’s failure to plan, monitor, and execute a safe docking evolution,” the report reads.
The names of the individuals working on the bridge that day were redacted in the Coast Guard report and excluded from the NTSB report.
All three individuals in control of the ship that day — the vessel’s master and staff captain, in addition to a marine pilot — had at least a decade of experience in their respective roles. The Coast Guard report states that the master had “been onboard Millennium Class vessels since 2001.”
In maritime terms, the master was the highest responsible officer on the bridge that day, followed by the staff captain, who is essentially the second in command.
In Alaska, cruise ships are required to have a pilot onboard. The pilot, who has intimate knowledge of local waterways, joins the cruise ship once it enters Alaska waters and works with the others on the vessel’s bridge.
June 3, 2016, was a blustery day in Ketchikan with 55-degree temperatures, rain, and winds blowing south-southeast at 38-45 knots, with some higher gusts. The seas were choppy.
According to the NTSB report, “Both the master and the staff captain believed the vessel could be safely docked in 30 to 35 knot beam winds.”
At about 9 a.m., the cruise ship was sailing southbound toward its scheduled 2 p.m. port call in Ketchikan. According to the NTSB report, the master told investigators he contacted the company fleet captain, who is in charge of Celebrity’s fleet, about the expected strong winds. According to the master, “the fleet captain told him it was the master’s decision whether to dock or not.”
“The master also told investigators the use of tugboats was not discussed during their conversation,” the NTSB report reads. “The master further stated that he had never heard of tugboats being available in the port of Ketchikan.”
At about noon, the bridge watch changed. At that time, “According to the off-going watch officer’s log entry, the Celebrity Infinity was in gale-force winds with very rough sea conditions,” states the NTSB report.
At 12:34 p.m. the Infinity was sailing southbound off of Guard Island, near the entrance to Tongass Narrows.
The pilot told investigators that as the vessel continued south toward Ketchikan the winds began to abate.
At about 1 p.m. a pilot on another vessel departing Ketchikan told the Celebrity Infinity that the wind was “a steady 25 knots with gusts to 35 knots.”
At 1:26 p.m., the 863-foot ship with 3,131 passengers onboard was making its way through Tongass Narrows. Around that time, those on the bridge conducted a “company-required pre-arrival brief.”
“(The master) stated that pilots normally participated in the brief but that the assigned pilot did not participate this time because the Celebrity Infinity was in restricted waters and the pilot had to concentrate on conning the vessel,” states the NTSB report.
“Conning” a vessel means navigating and directing the movement of a ship.
Although the pilot said he was not part of the brief, he told investigators that he had met with the master prior to docking and “he said the master assured him they could dock within the parameters being reported to them.”
“The pilot stated the master told him they would come in a bit faster and wider than normal due to the wind,” the NTSB report reads. “The pilot also stated he told the master that tugboats were available but the master said that ‘unless the winds were very strong, 30 to 40 knots, they would have no problem holding the ship’ and that he (the master) had docked the vessel in wind gusts up to 50 knots.”
According to the report, “The staff captain said that the latest NOAA weather forecast was discussed at the pre-arrival brief.
“This was not recorded by the (Voyage Data Recorder), but according to the pre-arrival PowerPoint brief used at the morning meeting of the accident day, the expected wind for the docking was from the southeast at 15 to 18 mph,” the NTSB report reads. “This was clearly at odds with forecasts reviewed by investigators, and it is unclear why the bridge team did not use the most recently available weather information.
“The brief also noted that tugboats were available in Ketchikan,” the report adds.
By 1:45 p.m. the ship had begun its approach to Berth 3.
According to the NTSB report, at 1:46 p.m. the winds around the Tongass Narrows gusted to 40 knots. In a footnote, the report also says, “It is likely that the vessel experienced wind gusts of 50 knots at the time of docking.”
At 1:49 p.m., control of the ship’s propulsion pods and thrusters was transferred to the port bridge wing, “with the master, pilot and staff captain manning the port conning station seconds later.”
“Between 1:52 p.m. and 1:53 p.m., the staff captain looked toward the stern three times but did not appear to say anything on the CCTV footage, nor did the VDR record him saying anything at the time,” the NTSB report reads.
The master told investigators that he made the decision to drop the starboard anchor at about 1:53 p.m. because he felt the approach was too quick. Azipod and bow thrusters were also used during the allision avoidance attempt. The anchor was dropped about 450 meters from the dock.
“Both the master and the staff captain told investigators that the master took over the conn at this point; however, the ship’s logbook does not reflect a change of conn from the staff captain to the master and nothing was heard on the VDR to indicate the master had the conn,” the NTSB report reads. “Further, CCTV footage showed the master, pilot, and staff captain operating the bow thrusters and the master and the staff captain operating the pods after the anchor had been dropped.”
The pilot told investigators that dropping the anchor “slowed the motion of the bow toward the pier.”
“The master said that he then ordered chain to be paid out so the vessel could move forward and toward the dock, but the VDR recording captured the master’s order as, ‘Hold the anchor,’” the NTSB report states.
At 1:55 p.m. the VDR recorded someone in the bridge shouting, “the stern, the stern!”
At 1:56 p.m., moving at about two knots, akin to a slow-motion train wreck, the 100,000-ton cruise ship’s port side slowly but loudly crunched into Berth 3, sending pieces of the dock and metal catwalk tumbling into the swirling ocean.
“The force of the allison opened up a 9-inch-diameter hole in the vessel’s port side,” the NTSB report reads. “… The berth suffered extensive damage to its catwalks and structural members. Damage to the berth and vessel was estimated at $1,153,738.”
This newly released NTSB report highlights differences between the accounts of those on the bridge.
One apparent contradiction regards the use of tug assist.
Tug assist is a service available to cruise ships attempting to dock in Ketchikan. The tugboats are often used when ships need to dock in difficult conditions, like in high winds. The tugs can help maneuver the cruise ship into place.
“According to the vice president of a local tugboat company, all the cruise lines calling in Ketchikan, except Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean Cruises, had a verbal agreement with the tugboat company whereby a tugboat would be made available to assist in docking,” the NTSB report reads. “For non-parties to the agreement, the tugboat would typically be ordered via the agent.
“For the date in question, the vice president said one of the company’s tugboats assisted other cruise ships with docking and undocking, but that the company was not asked to assist the Celebrity Infinity,” the report adds.
In the Coast Guard report, the master tells investigators that he was not aware of the availability of tug assist.
“The vessel’s master stated he would have liked to berth with two tugs assisting,” the Coast Guard report reads, “but did not believe they were available.”
The Coast Guard report repeats that assertion a number of times.
In the NTSB’s Marine Accident Brief for the crash, which is publically available on the NTSB website, page four states: “The master also told investigators the use of tugboats was not discussed during (the master’s meeting with the fleet captain). The master further stated that he had never heard of tugboats being available in the port of Ketchikan.”
Two pages later, however, the NTSB report notes that: “The pilot also stated he told the master that tugboats were available but the master said that ‘unless the winds were very strong, 30-40 [knots], they would have no problem holding the ship’ and that he (the master) had docked the vessel in wind gusts up to 50 knots.”
Another section of the NTSB report also raises an additional question regarding the master’s statements.
“The master said he discussed the docking evolution with the pilot, and the staff captain said he discussed the expected wind for docking with the master,” the NTSB report reads. “However, it is unclear if the three of them discussed the docking evolution together, as nothing was heard on the VDR.”
The report adds that, “Investigators were left with the impression that a clear mental model of the docking evolution was not shared by the entire bridge team.”
The Daily News reached out to both the Coast Guard and the NTSB, and is awaiting comment regarding the two reports.
Celebrity Cruises and its parent company, Royal Caribbean International, were also contacted about the reports. Neither company had responded for comment by deadline Tuesday.
In addition, Freedom of Information Act Requests have been filed requesting the names of the master, pilot and staff captain — all of which were redacted from the Coast Guard report, and excluded from the NTSB report.
According to the Coast Guard’s summary report, no enforcement referrals were made regarding the incident and, “No fault was determined on the part of the pilot, a U.S. licensed mariner.”