Ship's master said he spent 50 hours sleepless before crash

NEW ORLEANS — An oil tanker hit an offshore oil platform at night off Louisiana because its Turkish operating company didn’t give the ship’s master time to recover from days of sleepless travel, federal investigators have found.

The master, or person in charge of sailing the Atina, had traveled from Istanbul and told investigators “he was tired from having no sleep for over 50 hours,” according to a National Transportation Safety Board report made public Tuesday.

The crash early Oct. 17, 2020, did an estimated $72.9 million in damage — $72.3 million to the platform SP-57B and the rest to the tanker Atina, the board said.

However, nobody was hurt when the empty 898-foot-long (274-meter) ship ran into the platform at 4:46 a.m., and there wasn’t any pollution, the board said.

The “accident master” took over immediately from the departing master even though the operating company’s own safety manual calls for a 24-hour overlap, the report said. Such an overlap would have let him rest, it said.

The report described the accident’s probable cause as the “operating company not ensuring sufficient time for the master’s turnover, which resulted in the master’s acute fatigue and poor situation awareness during an attempted nighttime anchoring evolution.”

The man had been told in Istanbul that he had to take over as soon as possible. The reason, according to the report, was that the master on board planned to leave after having “issues” with an inspector for the ship’s owners and operators. The ship finished discharging its cargo of crude oil at the NuStar Terminal in St. James and then left for its planned anchorage off Southwest Pass, the report said.

The new master arrived on board and — instead of anchoring where the previous master had planned — he chose a closer spot. He told investigators that he “didn’t want to spend a lot of time finding a place to anchor in the middle of the night on a vessel he wasn’t familiar with” and he was exhausted. That spot was about 0.7 mile (1.1 kilometer) from the platform, the report said.

The NTSB identified the Atina’s owner as Hanzhou 1 Ltd and its operator as Besiktas Likid Tasimacilik Denizcilik Ticaret Anonim Sirketi.

Besiktas did not respond to an email sent Wednesday. An attorney representing both companies in a lawsuit filed by the platform’s owners, Cox Operating LLC of Houston, did not immediately respond to an email sent Friday.

Cox filed that suit the day after the crash, in federal court in New Orleans. It estimated damages to its platform at $225 million, including economic losses during repairs.

The NTSB does not assign fault or blame, and U.S. law forbids using NTSB reports as evidence in civil lawsuits.

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