Report faults ferry captain for dock collision in Petersburg

Associated PressJuly 12, 2012 

State Ferry Dock Accident

The Ocean Beauty Seafoods dock in Petersburg, Alaska, shows heavy damage on Monday, May 7, 2012, after the Alaska Marine Highway vessel Matanuska hit the dock while negotiating a turn in Wrangell Narrows prior to docking at the ferry terminal.

SUZANNE ASHE — AP

The captain of the Alaska state ferry Matanuska faces administrative action after the 408-foot ship slammed into a seafood company's dock in Petersburg, a report released Thursday says.

Capt. M. Scott Macaulay made a maneuvering error in strong currents May 7 while trying to dock in the Southeast Alaska community, according to the results of a joint investigation by the Alaska Department of Transportation and the Alaska Marine Highway System. Macaulay, who has 29 years' experience as a deck officer in the marine highway system, was a relief captain on the Matanuska that day, transportation department spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said.

"He does relief on various ships in the system," Woodrow said, adding that the May 7 voyage was the third time in the past 12 months Macaulay had captained the Matanuska.

Among the report's recommendations are administrative actions for the crew. However, no other crew member aboard the ship that day was faulted in the report.

"The only administrative action that I know is being taken is against the captain," Woodrow said.

What punishment he faces will not be made public since it's considered a personnel matter.

The ferry, one of the largest in the state fleet, caused considerable damage when it hit the Ocean Beauty Seafoods' dock head-on.

The Matanuska was traveling southbound into Wrangell Narrows in a strong current. According to the report, Macaulay meant to move out of that current into the back eddies of Petersburg harbor, where a counter current would slow the ferry's approach to the Alaska Marine Highway System dock in Petersburg. The report notes this is a common procedure for docking in Petersburg.

"With a following current running between 4 and 5 knots, when the bow of the vessel entered into the back eddy, the stern was still being pushed ahead in the main current," the report says.

The current in the back eddy would have allowed the ship to continue to swing to port, it says, but Macaulay "tried to counteract the opposing forces with split engines and hard right rudder."

When he discovered this had no effect on changing the course, he "went full astern on both throttles. Unfortunately, it was too little too late," the report says.

The crew was able to slow the ferry to minimize damages in the collision.

When it was realized that the Matanuska was going to hit the Ocean Seafoods dock, the chief mate sounded a whistle to alert anyone on dock or in the company's building that impact was imminent.

However, the report does note that no announcement was made to the crew of 49 or the 56 passengers of the pending collision. The ship was also carrying 31 vehicles.

"The crew maintained situational awareness throughout the entire event and took immediate actions that actually reduced the impact made by the ferry," Michael Neussl, the DOT's deputy commissioner for marine operations, said in a prepared statement. "As a result no one was injured either on the ferry or on the dock."

The ship damaged the seafood processor's concrete dock, along with dock pilings, the second floor of the Ocean Beauty building and a hydraulic crane.

Ocean Beauty did not open its Petersburg plant this summer after the accident. Processing work that 160 summer employees would normally handle is being completed by fishing tenders and at an Ocean Beauty plant near Juneau. Company officials initially estimated damage in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A message left with Ocean Beauty on Thursday wasn't immediately returned.

The Matanuska only showed scrapes after the accident, and the U.S. Coast Guard cleared it for sailing within hours of hitting the dock.

Besides administration action against Macaulay, the report recommends sending information about characteristics of each ship in the fleet to captains. "This is particularly important for relief crews who do not necessarily sail the same ship during every assignment," it says.

All deck officers will also receive a copy of the accident report, and a section on "making passenger announcements as appropriate during vessel incidents' will be added to an accident checklist.

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