May 10, 2011 --- Vol. 17, No. 42May 2011

Coast Guard: Tugboat captain played video games before vessel hit Bligh Reef

The captain of an oil industry tugboat that ran around on Alaska’s infamous Bligh Reef in late 2009 was playing a video game at the time of the wreck, a U.S. Coast Guard investigation has found.

The Coast Guard report says there was confusion between the captain and a crewman as to who had control of the boat, and that numerous company policies were violated aboard the tug Pathfinder, part of the Crowley Maritime tanker assist and escort fleet at Valdez.

The 136-foot Pathfinder, with a crew of six, had been out scouting for drifting ice, a potential danger to oil tankers, and was headed back to port when it ran onto Bligh Reef about 6:15 p.m. Dec. 23, 2009.

The tug remained afloat, but the grounding breached fuel tanks and 6,410 gallons of diesel spilled, forcing a massive cleanup.

Bligh Reef is a chartered navigational hazard in Prince William Sound. It gained worldwide notoriety in 1989 when the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran onto the reef, spilling nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil.

The Coast Guard report says the captain of the Pathfinder, Ronald Eugene Monsen, had just changed course and speeded up the tug, doing so without verifying the position of the vessel. He then turned to a computer to play video games, his back to the forward bridge window.

Monsen “deliberately violated company policy and used the vessel’s computer to play hearts or other games, directly after changing course and speed. The Master’s actions left the vessel’s position unknown, other than an assumption made by the Master on the vessel’s previous course,” the report says.

The captain and the second mate each believed the other “had the conn” at the time of the grounding, the Coast Guard report says.

Monsen had 33 years in the industry, had worked on the Pathfinder for more than 10 years, and was planning to retire within eight months, the report says.

Coast Guard investigators gathered evidence for enforcement actions against Monsen as well as Crowley, the report indicates.

See more in May 15 issue, available online by 11 a.m. Friday, May 13, at

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