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Report on marine accident - M/S Starkad capsized close to Fitjar 22 February 2014

Starkad capsized on 22 February 2014 between 10:49:33 and 10:49:42, when the vessel was in the process of connecting to the stern of a tow to act as assisting tugboat. Starkad's skipper did not manage to evacuate the wheelhouse, and died. AIBNs investigation shows that Starkad was vulnerable with the point of attachment of the towing connection amidships and in the centre. Starkad's limitations were not mentioned in the operations manual, nor were they communicated to the main tug. The communication between the captains was deficient. The emergency release mechanism for the towing hook was arranged in three metres distance from the manoeuvring position.

When Starkad, which was connected to the tow by its towing hawser, turned so that the stern would be in the direction of travel, the speed of the tow was 2.3 knots. The skipper and deckman on Starkad were surprised by a sudden acceleration of the tow. When the vessel capsized, the speed of the tow was between 3.7 and just over 4.0 knots. Starkad did not have the stability reserves required to resist the force that arose in the towing hawser when it was pulled taut across the starboard side. The lack of stability reserves was primarily due to the towing arrangement, where the effective point of attachment of the towing connection was more or less midship and in the centre of the vessel. This made the vessel vulnerable to serious listing and capsizing.

Under new regulations that have entered into force since the accident, Starkad and similar vessels are required, by 1 January 2017, to be able to withstand being pulled athwart through the water at a speed of five knots. The requirement focuses on the point of attachment for the towing connection in both the longitudinal and transverse direction. The placement of the point of attachment can thereby largely be decided on the basis of the vessel’s basic stability. In the view of the Accident Investigation Board Norway (AIBN), the use of a gobline to move the effective point of attachment for the towing connection to the stern would probably have prevented the accident.

The company Farsund Fortøyningsselskap AS (FFS) had prepared a manual for the towing operation, and its vessel FFS Atlas was the main tugboat. According to the manual, the shipyard Fitjar Mekaniske Verksted AS (FMV) played several roles and was, among other things, tasked with informing the personnel involved before the operation. Details of Starkad’s limitations and attachment method were not mentioned in the operations manual, nor were they communicated to the captain of FFS Atlas, who was thereby not aware of Starkad’s towing arrangement. Nor was the captain of Starkad familiar with the details of the operation. Lack of communication between the captains off the coast of Fitjar meant that the insufficient information provided in advance was not corrected. The AIBN believes that better planning and risk assessment on the part of both FMV and FFS could have prevented the accident. Safety recommendations concerning this are addressed to both parties.

The captain of Starkad was unable to reach the emergency release mechanism for the towing hook, three metres from the manoeuvring position, before the towing hawser jerked. If the emergency release mechanism had been within arm’s reach of the manoeuvring position, the AIBN believes that the accident could have been prevented. In the AIBN’s view, this will be an important assessment in the practical application of the new regulations, which require the towing connection to be released from the ‘relevant steering position on the vessel’.

Investigations have shown that the section on tugboats (Y32) in the Nordic standard for small vessels in professional use (Nordisk Båtstandard – NBS) does not necessarily provide additional security against the capsizing of tugboats. Up until 1 January 2018, the standard can be applied to vessels that are required to have a towing permit without having vessel instructions. The AIBN assumes that the Norwegian Maritime Authority will take note of the above in its practical application of the provision.

Starkad turned towards port with the starboard wheelhouse door open. The captain managed to shut the door a few seconds before the towing hawser jerked and caused the vessel to capsize. The AIBN is of the view that the buoyancy that was maintained in the wheelhouse because of the closed door caused the vessel to capsize more slowly than if the door had been left open. The deckman was thrown onto the deck by the jerk to the towing hawser, but managed to get up again and moved to the port railing, from where he jumped into the sea when Starkad heeled 90 degrees. If the capsizing movement had taken place faster, the AIBN believes that the deckman would have risked the vessel landing on top of him.

Safety recommendation

Safety recommendation MARINE no 2016/10T

The investigation of the Starkad accident has found that the planning and risk assessment of the towing operation were inadequate. As a result, the towing operation developed into a critical situation for Starkad without this criticality being identified before the accident actually occurred.

The Accident Investigation Board Norway recommends that Fitjar Mekaniske Verksted AS and Farsund Fortøyningsselskap AS cooperate with all the involved parties on the planning of towing operations, so that all phases are subject to a risk assessment and so that towing manuals that describe operating procedures and limitations are available for the whole operation.


Location Fitjarvika, Stord
Occurrence date 22.02.2014
Accident category Capsize
Area Norwegian Territorial Waters
Name of vessel Starkad
Accident type Fatal Accident, Capsize
Vessel type Special Purpose Ship
Register The Norwegian Ship Register

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