An accident report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has found that the collision between 63 metre superyacht Utopia IV and a gas tanker was caused by the crew not maintaining a lookout.
The two vessels collided on December 23, 2021, approximately 15 miles north-northwest of New Providence Island. Utopia IV was carrying seven charter guests and 12 crewmembers at the time and was making passage to Bimini Island when she hit the stern of the 49 metre steel tanker Tropic Breeze at 10pm. The force of the collision pierced the stern of the tanker, which caused it to sink to a depth of 2,000 metres and its crew to abandon ship.
The report details that Utopia IV was travelling at 20 knots when she struck Tropic Breeze. The captain was not in the wheelhouse when the incident occurred having left 12 minutes prior to check on the guests. According to the report, the bosun, who was left in the wheelhouse, was not certified as mate or captain and therefore was not allowed by regulations to perform watchstanding duties by himself. It is also understood that the bosun was multitasking and logging navigation data "and therefore was distracted from performing effective lookout duties", the report detailed.
The tanker was travelling at a speed of five knots and carrying a cargo of marine gas oil and liquid petroleum gas. The captain of Tropic Breeze had also left the wheelhouse to use the restroom prior to the incident.
None of the watchstanders on Utopia IV or Tropic Breeze reported seeing the other vessel on radar, which is set to a three-mile radius, while visibility was understood to be "good" in spite of bow spray reported to have been collecting on the windshield of Utopia IV. The report determined that, given the relative speed of both vessels, it was likely that none of the watchstanders had looked at the radar in the 12 minutes before the collision or completed a visual assessment of the surroundings.
CCTV in the galley of Utopia IV captured the moment of the collision. Equipment and several of the yacht's crew were thrown to the deck or into bulkheads; three crew sustained minor injuries. Utopia IV’s captain was in the main dining area and was thrown into the forward bulkhead and door frame.
The chief engineer of Tropic Breeze investigated the damage and discovered that the engine room was flooding rapidly. The captain made a VHF distress call and decided to abandon the vessel; a liferaft was launched. Meanwhile, Utopia IV’s chief engineer restarted the yacht’s engines, which had shut down after the collision, and a distress call was made from the wheelhouse. The yacht attempted to rescue the crew from the tanker but sea swells prevented them from boarding. The tanker crew were eventually rescued by a passing motor yacht, Amara, which heard the distress calls and diverted its course to assist.
Utopia IV’s chief stewardess told investigators she saw the Tropic Breeze’s navigation lights illuminated following the collision. According to the Utopia IV’s crew, the Utopia IV’s lights were all on.
As well as damage to both vessels, 156,500 gallons of marine gas oil was lost with the tanker. The accident resulted in nearly $7.9 million in damages, the report revealed.
As Utopia IV approached Tropic Breeze from directly astern, the yacht (as the overtaking vessel) was required by 72 COLREGS to give way to the tanker. However, as the watchstanders on both Utopia IV and Tropic Breeze failed to maintain a proper lookout, both were unable to identify the risk of collision and respond suitably. The report said: "Although the Utopia IV bore responsibility as the overtaking vessel to manoeuvre 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."
NTSB investigators concluded that the probable cause of the collision was Utopia IV’s wheelhouse crew not maintaining a proper lookout and therefore not identifying the vessel they were overtaking, but with contribution from Tropic Breeze’s bridge team also not maintaining a proper lookout.
“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 report said. “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. 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.”
The owners of the vessel had previously said in a statement that they were "terribly saddened" by the incident.