Ship Operator Caused Ship Collision When He Was Distracted by Phone

  • A ship operator was distracted on his phone while on lookout, causing his ship to crash into another.
  • The ships racked up $12.3 million worth of damage, per the National Transportation Safety Board.
  • No injuries were reported in the crash, which took place in July.

A ship operator, distracted from his lookout while texting on his phone, caused his ship to crash into another, resulting in damages of over $12 million to both ships.

Bunun Queen, a 590-foot-long bulk carrier, collided with Thunder, a 250-foot-long supply vessel, off the coast of Louisiana on July 23. And it was all because of a distracted ship operator, a report by the National Transportation Safety Board revealed on May 22. 

Minutes before the crash, the operator on watch was using his cell phone to make a “personal call,” the report stated. The Bunun Queen was heading to the Gulf of Mexico when the crash occurred. 

“The call lasted about a minute; after that, the master used voice dictation on his phone to send multiple text messages, all of which were personal in nature,” per the NTSB’s report. 

The regulator added that while the operator was preoccupied with his phone, the other members of his team had gone to the ship’s mess to have lunch. 

By the time the crew was alerted to the incoming Thunder vessel, it was too late to steer clear of it, resulting in a collision, per the NTSB.

Graphic of point of collision of the two ships.

Graphic of point of collision of the two ships.

National Transportation Safety Board

Thunder sustained “substantial damage” to its port side, which resulted in flooding in parts of the ship. Eleven of the Thunder’s 18 crew members were evacuated onto a crew boat, and no injuries were reported in the incident.

Bunun Queen’s bow incurred several dents and a crack. The ship’s shell plating was also fractured, causing water to enter the vessel. 

Bunun Queen racked up damages worth $680,000, while operators of Thunder had to fork out $11.6 million  in repair costs. 

The collision happened “​in good visibility, daylight and fair-weather conditions,” the report said.

The NTSB issued a warning to all ship operators in the report, stating that “the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea requires ‘every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate.'”

Several transportation-related accidents have been caused by operators trying to multi-task with their cell phones. 

In 2008, a Metrolink commuter train driver was accused of causing one of the deadliest crashes in US history, per Reuters. An NTSB probe found at the time that the driver had been texting just before his train jumped a red light while traveling through California, and crashed headlong into a freight train. At least 135 people were injured in the incident, and 25 people were killed, Reuters reported. 

The Federal Railroad Administration in 2011 banned all train operators from using mobile phones while working.

And in March 2022, a cargo ship ran aground and found itself stuck at Chesapeake Bay for more than a month. 

The US Coast Guard in a December 2022 report attributed the grounding to the ship pilot’s negligence. In their report, the Coast Guard noted that the pilot had been making phone calls and sending text messages right before the grounding took place.

The NTSB did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment sent outside regular business hours. 

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