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M/V Wave Dancer
Janine
Posted: Friday, August 21, 2009 4:33 PM
Joined: 02/05/2008
Posts: 386


Dockwalk magazine's regular column, What Went Wrong, highlights a different marine accident each month, focusing on the lessons learned. We've received feedback that some readers would like to comment on it. So we're republishing it in the forum so you can have your say.

This month's article is about a dive vessel that claimed the lives of 17 guests and 3 crew after capsizing during a hurricane.


As we sit in the midst of yet another Atlantic hurricane season, all mariners share the anxiety and nervous indecision that often precedes landfall of a tropical storm. At some point this season, many of us will be watching “the cones” and intently monitoring the hourly updates, struggling to figure out the threat level of a menacing storm and trying to predict its next move.

It’s an appropriate time to recall the tragedy of Wave Dancer as a reminder of how important it is to exercise the utmost caution in an unpredictable storm season. (The following information was obtained from the official public report issued by the International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize regarding the Wave Dancer incident.)

On October 6, 2001, the 120-foot dive vessel Wave Dancer set sail for a one week trip in Belize with 20 passengers and nine crew aboard. That same day, Iris became the season’s fifth hurricane, and Wave Dancer’s captain was given strict orders to carefully monitor the storm, which was nearly 1,000 miles away. Weather conditions for the dive charter started idyllically. By 8:30 p.m. on October 7, Iris was still a Category 1 hurricane and about 500 miles away. The National Hurricane Center in Miami and the weather fax forecast the storm to track towards the Yucatan Peninsula. However, in anticipation of the approaching storm, the Belize National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) issued a hurricane watch, which the government upgraded to a hurricane warning for the entire country of Belize later that day and further warned that its models indicated landfall was likely within 24 hours.

Relying heavily on the weather-fax forecast, which predicted the storm tracking far north of Belize, the captain anchored overnight at Lighthouse Reef. Around 6:00 a.m. on October 8, an RAF helicopter flew overhead with hurricane signals. At 6:30 a.m., the crew made way for Big Creek, a port that normally functioned as a cargo port for the banana trade, but was made available as a safe harbor because of the approaching storm. At 11 a.m., NEMO broadcast that the storm could reach wind speeds of more than 140 miles per hour and produce a storm surge greater than 15 feet. The broadcast then stated that, “Residents along coastal areas…should seek safe shelter in secure buildings on higher ground.”

The captain maintained that his information indicated that the storm was not going to strengthen and it would track north. He allowed the guests to vote whether they wanted to stay on the boat or evacuate, and they elected to stay with the boat.

At the time of the incident, Wave Dancer had been chartered by a Richmond, Virginia, dive club, which had also chartered another dive vessel, Belize Aggressor III. When Wave Dancer reached the harbor at 2:30 p.m., it tied up port side-to in front of Belize Aggressor III, which had already secured for the storm. Because there were two vessels tied up, Wave Dancer’s bow overhung the dock by about 30 feet. Someone from the port authority informed the captain that there was a bank in town where the guests could ride out the storm. Because the bank had no toilets, showers or food, the captain once again claimed that he allowed the guests to vote, and again they decided to stay with the boat. (This point was disputed by at least one of the survivors.)

By the time Iris made landfall, it was a Category 4 storm with winds of 140 miles per hour. It hit the Big Creek Port with its full intensity around 8 p.m. on October 8. At approximately 8:30 p.m., Wave Dancer broke loose, collided with Aggressor III, grounded, then capsized in 12 feet of water. Seventeen passengers and three crewmembers died. According to the vessel’s insurance company, the fatalities and material losses were blamed on captain error.

Rupert Connor, the president of Luxury Yacht Group and a former yacht captain, says, “Only the captain can decide the actions taken to secure for a storm. Offering a vote to passengers does not relieve the master of his responsibility to protect his guests from harm. Likewise, the wishes of the owner always come second to the safety or security actions of the master.”

Connor advises adhering to a strict code of conduct when evaluating a storm threat, which he condenses to three major responsibilities: monitoring the conditions, having a plan and acting with authority in order to protect life, property and the environment.

With regard to monitoring conditions, Connor warns against complacency. “Never rely upon one source for weather information. There are many different models for weather forecasting and to grasp on to one forecast just because it tells you what you want to see is dangerous. Use all sources and monitor local official warnings,” he says.

When it comes to timing, Connor is emphatic that there needs to be a written plan in place and action needs to be taken early. “When storm force winds are expected within forty-eight hours, the vessel should be finalizing its preparations for the storm,” he maintains. “Within twenty-four hours of expected landfall, all vessel preparations should be complete and all consideration focused on the safety of the crew, who are ideally not staying aboard during the storm.” Wave Dancer had a mere six hours to prepare for the storm.

In the end, “There can only be one captain, and [s/he] has the authority to take all necessary actions to protect life, property and the environment,” says Connor. “If you do the right thing by following a documented plan that’s on file with your insurance company, there will be no [unfortunate repercussions]…. The crew who survived were credited in the accident report with having performed superbly in the recovery of the dead. Sadly, it doesn’t matter how well you respond during or after an incident if actions could have been taken before the accident to avoid it altogether.”


Kelly
Posted: Friday, August 21, 2009 5:43 PM
Joined: 02/05/2008
Posts: 40


For those who wish to read the full report issued by the International Marine Registry of Belize, here is a link: http://www.cdnn.info/news/article/a050226.html
 
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