Helwig F. Van Der Grinten

Master Mariner

Finding Faults in Cruise Ship Grounding

Conclusions drawn by the National Transportation Safety Board investigating the grounding of the Nieuw Amsterdam on Gravina Point, Alaska, in August 1994, (Printed in PM #14) are not detailed enough to provide concerned mariners with a sound understanding of exactly what mistakes were made and how such a grounding could have been prevented.     

The facts as presented were: The ship was late in executing a 25' course change while proceeding at 15 knots in patchy fog. The initial rudder order was only 5'. This was increased to 20' one minute later. Then after another minute speed was reduced to 10 knots. After another two minutes the ship grounded.  

Contrary to the NTSB finding, the basic blunder was not improper navigation. It is apparent that the bridge team knew where they were and where they were going; they just did not know what to do about it. In other words the basic blunder was improper shiphandling.          

There are three fundamental principles of shiphandling, which were drummed into the head of each trainee who attended the former Navy Ship Handling School in Little Creek, Va.:   

1. When approaching a turn, reduce speed early so that the ship's momentum is as low as possible during the turn.  

2. Turn early. If you begin the turn too early it is very easy to make a correction by reducing the turning rate. This is a much safer position to be in than the difficult and dangerous situation of trying to recover from a turn which was begun too late.       

 3. To get the turn started, use maximum initial rudder and pump to the rudder by  giving short bursts of ahead thrust from the engines. If the turning rate becomes too high, reduce the amount of rudder.

Each one of these principles was violated in this case. The Nieuw Amsterdam did not slow when approaching the turn. She began her turn very late. When she finally started her turn she used a very small amount of rudder. The ultimate error was the Nieuw Amsterdam's attempt to reduce her momentum by slowing to 10 knots. This robbed her rudders of much needed turning power and made her eventual grounding inevitable.      

Finding Faults in Cruise Ship Grounding
Professional Mariner, Issue #15, Oct-Nov 1995