Ferry ran ashore after master ‘almost certainly fell asleep’, report finds

An investigation into an incident in which a ferry ran ashore, injuring 41 people on board, has found the master “almost certainly fell asleep”, causing the accident.

The MV Alfred grounded on the east coast of Swona Island in the Pentland Firth between mainland Scotland and Orkney at about 2pm on July 5, 2022.

The ferry, which had been sailing between Gills Bay to St Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay, ran ashore, injuring 41 of the 82 passengers and crew on board.

In report into the incident published on Wednesday, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) said the vessel grounded “because the master experienced a loss of awareness while helming the vessel close inshore, almost certainly as a result of falling asleep for approximately 70 seconds”.

The report found this caused the vessel to “swing towards the coast unchecked”, and when the master became aware of the problem he was unable to stop it crashing into the rocks on the shore, while travelling at 13 knots.

The investigation also found MV Alfred’s passage plan was “inadequate” and its electronic chart display information system used to navigate the vessel was not being used effectively to support safe navigation and warn of danger.

The report also found the ferry operator, Pentland Ferries, and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) had detected the safety issue during previous audits.

Alfred grounded in waters controlled by the Orkney Islands Council Harbour Authority.

The report said the harbour’s vessel traffic service was not monitoring the movement of the ferry and did not raise the alarm when it entered the guard zone near Swona Island.

The inspectors also said the vessel’s emergency response did not follow the safety video shown to passengers, and that this was due to inadequate safety drills for crew members.

The report said Pentland Ferries and the Orkney Islands Council Harbour Authority had both taken steps to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

Inspectors also made a number of recommendations to the MCA to ensure similar does not happen going forward.

Andrew Moll, chief inspector of marine accidents at the MAIB, said: “Lots of safety action has been taken as a result of this accident and I am encouraged by the actions taken by Pentland Ferries to address the issues raised in this report.

“However, this accident offers a wider opportunity for lessons to be learned across the maritime industry.

“Alfred’s master routinely operated very close to the coast, leaving little margin for error when they found themselves in an unsafe situation.

“Regardless of the type of vessel you are operating, it is critical that a safe passage plan is made and that it is followed.

“Always allow sufficient sea room to enable action to be taken in good time if things are not going to plan.

“On the afternoon of July 5 2022, the master almost certainly fell asleep and allowed the ferry to swing towards land. Crew should always be sufficiently well rested when coming on duty.

“Finally, this case highlights the importance of management assuring themselves that plans and procedures they have put in place are actually being followed.

“If you have management oversight of a vessel or maritime operation, ask yourself; do I know that our crews and frontline staff are following our procedures, and are our plans fit for purpose in a real-life emergency situation?”

A spokesperson for Orkney Islands Council said: “We’ve considered and accepted the findings of the MAIB investigation.

“Since the grounding incident, a number of improvements have been implemented, including improved communication with all local ferry companies on their passage plans, an improved auditing process around this and an improved PEC revalidation process.

An MCA spokesperson said: “The MCA places the highest importance on the safety of passengers and crew.

“As well as the Alfred being inspected by MCA surveyors after the incident, another Pentland Ferries vessel was inspected incognito during a voyage to check safety lessons had been learned by the company.

“The MCA has accepted the MAIB’s recommendations and will do what is required to ensure ferries continue to operate to high standards so passengers can have confidence in their safety.”

Pentland Ferries has been contacted for comment.