On December 23, 2021, M/Y Utopia IV struck tanker vessel Tropic Breeze near Nassau, Bahamas, eventually causing the tanker to sink. The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) investigation report on the incident determined “the probable cause of the collision was the Utopia IV’s wheelhouse crew not maintaining a proper lookout and therefore not identifying the tank vessel they were overtaking. Contributing was the Tropic Breeze’s bridge team also not maintaining a proper lookout.”
Watchstanders on either vessel reported they did not see the other vessel on the radar, and the report concludes that likely no one had looked at the radar in the 12 minutes prior to the collision. Tropic Breeze’s automatic identification system (AIS) was not operating due to a power issue. The investigators concluded that if either vessel had kept a proper lookout, they likely could have detected one another and taken action to avoid the collision.
At 8:30 p.m., Utopia IV departed from anchor offshore at Albany to head to Bimini Island, carrying seven guests and 12 crewmembers. The captain left the wheelhouse at 9:48 p.m. to check on the guests, leaving the bosun alone in the wheelhouse. On Tropic Breeze, the master and able seafarer were on watch on the bridge. The able seafarer left to complete a round at about 9:55 p.m. and returned a few minutes later.
Just before 10:00 p.m., the Utopia IV bosun shifted his attention to recording hourly log entries and navigation fix, turning his back from the forward windows. The Tropic Breeze captain had also left the bridge to use the restroom around this time.
The CCTV on Utopia IV captured crew being propelled forward and thrown to the deck or into bulkheads when the collision occurred. Three crewmembers sustained minor injuries. The chief stewardess told investigators she saw the Tropic Breeze’s navigation lights on after the collision, and according to the crew, Utopia IV’s lights were all on.
Tropic Breeze’s chief engineer found the engine room flooding rapidly and informed the captain. Fifteen minutes following the collision, the captain made a VHF distress call and decided to abandon the vessel. The tanker’s crew boarded a rescue boat and a life raft. Utopia IV’s chief engineer restarted the engines that had shut down after the collision, and the chief mate made a distress call. The yacht was maneuvered to recover the tanker’s crew, but sea swells and the height of the swim platform prevented them from doing so.
After hearing the VHF distress calls, M/Y Amara arrived and rescued the tanker’s crew on the tender. Due to sea conditions, they were taken to Lyford Cay Marina in Nassau. Tropic Breeze continued to flood and eventually sank 25 minutes after the collision. Utopia IV’s hull was compromised in the incident, so Amara escorted the yacht to the Nassau cruise ship dock.
As the overtaking vessel, Utopia IV was required by 72 COLREGS to give way to the tanker. The report also states that, “However, because the watchstanders on the Utopia IV were not maintaining a proper lookout using all available means, they did not identify the risk of collision. Although the Utopia IV bore responsibility as the overtaking vessel to maneuver away from the tank vessel, once the yacht’s intentions were unclear and a close-quarters situation had developed, the tank vessel should have taken action.”
According to the tanker’s crew, the AIS had a power issue and was to be repaired as soon as COVID precautions allowed a technician to travel to the vessel. However, investigators discovered the AIS unit hadn’t transmitted a position in 11 months.
The NTSB report found that with good visibility conditions, the captain and bosun should have been able to see the tanker’s stern light as they were approaching, even with bow spray on the windshield. Because the yacht was traveling at 20 knots, it would have been prudent to have attentive watchstanders. The bosun was also not certified as a mate or captain and was not allowed by regulations to conn the vessel or perform watchstanding duties alone.
“A proper lookout by suitably trained crewmembers is required by the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 and is essential in determining the risk of collision. The effective use of all available resources by a bridge team, including visual scanning, radars, electronic charts, and an automatic identification system, increases collective situational awareness and contributes to a safe navigation watch,” the report states. “Operators and crews should ensure that vessel bridge teams are staffed with certificated/credentialed mariners who are familiar with all bridge navigation equipment and able to independently take immediate action.”
Damage to the vessels was estimated at $7.9 million, and 156,500 gallons of petroleum cargo and fuel were lost into the sea.