A safety-escort tug that ran aground two years ago on Prince William Sound's Bligh Reef went off course because of a captain who was playing video games, according to a report from the U.S. Coast Guard. The tugboat ran aground at the very same site where the Exxon Valdez disaster occurred. The tugboat Pathfinder was part of a navigation safety system established in the aftermath of the 1989 oil spill and was designed to guide oil tankers through the sound after they fill up with crude at the trans-Alaska pipeline's maritime terminal in Valdez.
But the tug boat operated by the Crowley Marine Services ended up striking the same submerged reef that ripped open the hull of the Exxon Valdez supertanker, causing the worst tanker spill in U.S. waters.
The Coast Guard report, which is dated May 5 and has not been released publically, was issued to various parties investigating the 2009 tugboat accident, according to Coast Guard Petty Officer Walter Shinn. A final report releases later in the week. The report comes out of the Coast Guard's Alaska office in Juneau.
The Pathfinder spilled 6,410 gallons of diesel fuel after it struck Bligh Reef on the evening of December 23, 2009. The vessel was headed back to Valdez after scouting for floating ice in the area traveled by oil tankers.
According to the Coast Guard report, Captain Eugene Monsen did several things wrong that caused the accident. First, he changed the Pathfinder's course despite losing track of the vessel's precise location, then increased speed and failed to properly communicate with other officers. The Coast Guard puts the blame for his inattentive behavior on playing "hearts" and other games on his computer and had his back turned to the bridge.
"The fact that he went to the computer to play video games after a course change further aggravates the situation and amplifies the lack of attention on the bridge between the master and second mate," the report read.
The Coast Guard report also noted that the captain and his second mate were in direct violation of company operating and safety policies. Despite slightly exonerating the ship company, the report also recommended that the company update its policies, specifically calling for new provisions to address crew members' use of cell phones and recreational electronic devices that provide access to music, phone calls and video games.
"Games, music, phone calls to far-away family are a strong temptation and could easily distract a ship's officer from maintaining a proper lookout," the report read.
Crowley Maritime Corp. spokesman Mark Miller said that the Pathfinder's captain and second mate were fired after it was determined that they violated safety policies. The incident was an exception rather than the norm, the company claims.
"Crowley has a proven record of safe and reliable operations in Alaska. It deeply regrets the Pathfinder grounding incident," Miller said.