“Maneuvering error” blamed in ferry impact with dock

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MV Matanuska JULY 12, 2012 — The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) and the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) have concluded the internal investigation of a May 7, 2012 incident involving the 408 ft, 499 passenger ferry M/V Matanuska and the Ocean Beauty Seafoods dock in Petersburg, Alaska.

“While we regret the mishap ever happened it is the responsibility of AMHS to conduct a thorough investigation so that we may take the necessary steps toward reducing the possibility of any such event reoccurring,” stated Michael Neussl, DOT&PF Deputy Commissioner for Marine Operations.

The investigation concluded that given the existing environmental conditions at the time, the ship’s captain made a maneuvering error that could not be corrected before impacting the Ocean Beauty Seafoods dock.

As the M/V Matanuska transited southbound into Wrangell Narrows with a strong following current, the captain intended to maneuver out of the strong current and into the back eddies of Petersburg Harbor, where a counter current exists. The intention of the maneuver was to slow the ferry’s approach to the Petersburg AMHS terminal. The combination of these two strong currents, combined with the captain’s engine and rudder commands, prevented the ferry from completing its turn and proceeding along the Petersburg waterfront to the AMHS terminal.

The ship’s captain did not recognize this maneuvering error with enough time available to avoid the collision. However, the ferry crew was able to significantly reduce the speed of the vessel and minimize the force with which the ferry struck the dock.

“The crew maintained situational awareness throughout the entire event and took immediate actions that actually reduced the impact made by the ferry,” said Neussl. “As a result, no one was injured either on the ferry or on the dock, and the vessel was safely moored at the AMHS terminal a short time after the collision.”

The report stated that following the incident all crewmembers underwent drug and alcohol testing, as required by the U.S. Coast Guard. All results came back negative.

The investigation also included AMHS crewmember testimonies and technological data such as the Marine Exchange of Alaska vessel tracking information and the Voyage Data Recorder, which provided the audio from the ferry bridge as well as the engine and rudder settings.

The report detailed the operating limits and handling capabilities of the M/V Matanuska. It was determined that the vessel was operating under acceptable environmental conditions and that there was no mechanical failure or malfunction. The U.S. Coast Guard inspected and cleared the vessel for sailing less than three hours after the incident.

“This is an extremely rare occurrence,” said Mr. Neussl. “Over the last 28 years AMHS has made approximately 200,000 port calls of which there have only been 14 incidents of this kind. This mishap involved a seasoned captain with 29 years of AMHS experience, 14 years as a captain, and no record of previous accidents.”

AMHS will be taking necessary steps toward avoiding similar events in the future. This will include providing updated information and copies of the investigation all to AMHS captains and deck officers. Updates will also be made to emergency checklists and forms that are located on the bridge of every AMHS ferry.

“Alaska is an extremely challenging and demanding environment that is often very unforgiving to errors,” said Mr. Neussl. “We’re confident that the lessons learned and the measures that will be taken from this mishap will help prevent a similar situation in the future.”

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (ADOT&PF) oversees 254 airports, 11 ferries serving 34 communities, 5,700 miles of highway and 660 public facilities throughout the state of Alaska. The mission of ADOT&PF is to “Get Alaska Moving through service and infrastructure.”

“It’s up to the judge at the end of the day,” defense lawyer Michael Chalos said.

Granade scheduled La Forgia’s sentencing for Aug. 15, the same date she will impose punishment on the corporation. La Forgia has been living at downtown Mobile hotel since U.S. authorities detained the ship and has been unable to return home or leave the area.

“Certainly, that’s going to be a factor at sentencing,” Chalos said.

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