HALIFAX, Nova Scotia – The 1998 fatal crash of the high-speed ferry The Cat and a boat off the coast of Yarmouth occurred when the fishing vessel was steered across the main channel in the path of the ferry.
That is the main conclusion of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, which last week released its 15-page report on the accident that killed Samuel C. Hood, 33, of Yarmouth, the skipper of the fishing vessel Lady Megan II.
According to the report, factors contributing to the accident included the fact that the fishing boat did not adhere to agreements between the two vessels on how and where to pass each other. The fishing vessel also did not reduce speed when the conditions of navigation changed. Also, The Cat did not challenge the proposed second passing agreement, the report said.
The report notes that the board’s investigation was for the purpose of advancing transportation safety and that the board does not assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.
The visibility on the night of Sept. 4, 1998, was “near zero” because of a thick fog along the Nova Scotia coast. The Cat was leaving Yarmouth on its way to Bar Harbor; the Lady Megan II was approaching Yarmouth Harbor, returning from a fishing trip off the coast. Crews of both vessels were using radar as the primary instrument to position their vessels, the report noted, and both had been in contact with each other.
Initially, the skipper of the fishing vessel told marine traffic controllers that he planned to “hold off south of Bug Light,” information which was relayed to the ferry. As The Cat steered into the main channel, the crew received a radio call from the Lady Megan II.
“The skipper of the fishing vessel informed the crew of the ferry that the ferry was on his radar and that he had changed his intentions and he was now intending to go around Bug Light and wait on the east side of the Main Channel for The Cat the pass,” the report stated. “The [Cat] informed the Lady Megan II that she would round Bug Light in ‘probably two minutes.’ The Lady Megan II informed the ferry that she should be around the light by then, reiterated her intention to hold off to the east of the main channel and confirmed a port-to-port passage.”
The captain of the ferry altered course and took The Cat to the western edge of the channel, with her starboard side outside the main channel. He slowed the engines to about 8 knots, but the vessel was still slowing down when the collision occurred.
The two vessels collided northwest of Bug Light on the western edge of the main channel.
Under marine procedures, The Cat should have been the one to propose a place for passing and indicate on which side she would pass, the report said. Although The Cat did not make the pro- posals, both vessels had agreed to the initial pass position, which, according to the report was at a wider section of the channel and would have been safer.
The Cat did not have authority to forbid the change in plans proposed by the Lady Megan II, the report said, and, without objecting, informed the fishing vessel that it would pass Bug Light in about two minutes, the report noted.
The Cat had reduced speed as it changed position, the report said. The fishing vessel’s engine setting, however, was at full speed – about 9 knots through the water. The Lady Megan II did not reduce speed after the passage agreement was modified and conditions changed.
The safety board found that it is likely that the radar of the Lady Megan II was affected by the close quarters, making it difficult to determine the exact position, course and speed of the ferry.
It also determined that the crew of the fishing vessel did not see the ferry’s side lights initially because of the existing visibility and subsequently because the fishing vessel was close to the bow of the catamaran where her lights, positioned on the outside of each hull, were not visible.