NTSB Releases Report on Alaska Grounding, Capsizing of Fishing Vessel

The f/v Challenger at the site of its Alaska grounding in August 2023. Photo via National Transportation Safety Board.

The grounding and capsizing of the fishing vessel Challenger last year was likely due to human error on part of the vessel’s captain, according to a report on the incident released Aug. 17 by the National Transportation Safety Board.

“We determined that the probable cause of the grounding of the fishing vessel Challenger was the captain’s decision to navigate close to shore in an area known to him to have an uncharted rock,” the report states.

Contributing to the capsizing of the vessel, according to the NTSB, was the lack of a watertight collision bulkhead and subdivision or compartmentalization below the main deck, which allowed for progressive flooding.

The incident occurred around 7 a.m. Alaska time on Aug. 7, 2022. While transiting the northwestern shore of Kodiak Island, Alaska, the Challenger struck a submerged rock and began taking on water.

The captain and three crewmembers used onboard pumps to remove the floodwater, but the pumps were unable to keep up, resulting in the captain ordering the crew to abandon the vessel about four minutes after the boat struck the rock. A nearby Good Samaritan fishing vessel rescued the full crew.

Although the Challenger eventually capsized, there were no injuries or pollution reported.

NTSB investigators couldn’t verify the exact location of the rock that the Challenger struck, but a friend of the vessel’s captain traveled to the area of the grounding days after the casualty and supplied investigators with coordinates he said corresponded with the location of the rock.

When plotted on a NOAA electronic navigational chart (ENC), the coordinates corresponded to an area with a water depth of about 30 feet, located about 220 yards (660 feet) seaward of the low tide mark.

The ENC showed three rocks, in about six feet of water, within about 150 yards (450 feet) of the coordinates supplied to investigators.

The navigation chart of the area the vessel was operating indicated that a National Ocean Service hydrographic survey with partial bottom coverage was last completed sometime between 1900 and 1939.

“The hatch between the Challenger’s forepeak and void was not watertight,” the report states in part. “If the bulkhead comprising the aft side of the forepeak and void below it on the Challenger had … been watertight, the flooding into the void would have been contained, and the resulting progressive flooding that led to the vessel’s capsizing would likely have been prevented.”

The Challenger, owned and operated by Alward Fisheries since 2007, was a 52.5-foot-long, molded, fiber-reinforced polymer-hulled purse seiner, built in 1989 by LeClerq Marine in Seattle.

Homeported in Homer, Alaska, the vessel was an uninspected commercial fishing vessel that operated in the salmon fishery. Twin 425-hp John Deere diesel engines, each driving a propeller, powered the boat.

Following the grounding and capsizing, a marine surveyor representing the vessel’s underwriters declared the Challenger to be a total loss, with the proposed repair cost exceeding $600,000. 

The full NTSB report on the incident can be read at https://tinyurl.com/s2rr8ayj.