QE2 Grounding Blamed On Confusion On Bridge
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Queen Elizabeth 2, the world’s largest ocean liner, ran aground off Cape Cod last summer because of confusion and poor communication on the bridge, a federal review board concluded Tuesday.
The National Transportation Safety Board ruled that inadequate depth charts and faulty assumptions about the ship’s draft only contributed to the accident. The main cause, the board said, was the failure of the crew and a harbor pilot from Newport, R.I., to note that the course they plotted took them over shoals.
The QE2 ran aground on the evening of Aug. 7 in Vineyard Sound between Martha’s Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands off the southwest corner of Cape Cod. Crew members were so surprised that they initially checked for a blown engine or a collision before realizing they had struck bottom, the NTSB said.
No one was hurt, but the liner was out of commission for months because seven of its 36 double-bottom tanks ruptured. Cunard, owner of the QE2, estimated the accident cost $30 million in repairs and lost business.
A Cunard statement said, ″If correct depths had been shown on the charts, the QE2 would have avoided the area completely and the grounding would not have occurred.″ The charts are published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But according to the safety board, a QE2 officer marked a 39-foot-deep shoal area on a map as an area to be avoided. The vessel later struck uncharted boulders on that shoal that were 35 feet below the surface.
During the nighttime passage, both ship Capt. Robin Woodall and harbor pilot John Hadley suggested course changes. Eventually a compromise was reached that took the ship over the shoal. The officer who had marked the map told investigators he did not alert his superiors that the course would travel over the shoal because he assumed the QE2, with its 32-foot draft, would easily pass over.
The board said that at the QE2′s speed of 25 knots, or about 29 mph, it run nine feet deeper than normal. The board said the crew estimated it would run only 2 feet deeper.
″The probable cause of the grounding of the Queen Elizabeth 2 was the failure by the pilot, master, and watch officers to agree on a navigation plan for departing Vineyard Sound and to maintain situational awareness, resulting in the striking of uncharted rocks after an unplanned course change,″ the board unanimously concluded.
″Contributing to the accident was the lack of information available ... about how speed and water depth affect the ship’s under-keel clearance.″
Board member John K. Lauber called the accident, ″a classic example of a failure of a team to work together and solve a navigational problem.″
The board did not blame any one person or organization. But at a hearing Tuesday, Board Chairman Carl Vogt said the pilot is ″the expert on this bottom and these channels. I can’t imagine that the pilot would purposely turn into an area that was that shallow.″
Hadley, the pilot, did not immediately return a message left on his telephone answering machine seeking reaction.