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As mate munched, ferry and freighter nearly crunched

Official findings blame the ferry skipper for near-miss in late December.

A ferry operator’s inattention is blamed for the near collision between a ferry loaded with Bainbridge passengers and a northbound Danish freighter late last month, according to a Washington State Ferries investigation.

The recently released investigation report states that the ferry’s operator, First Mate Pamela Jamison, “broke some cardinal rules of collision avoidance” and was, by eyewitness accounts, “multi-tasking” and eating while at the ferry Wenatchee’s helm.

Jamison “bears the responsibility for the actions on the side of the M/V Wenatchee in allowing a close quarters situation to develop,” stated the 30-page report drafted by WSF South Region Port Captain Pete Williams.

The 465-foot ferry piloted by Jamison and the 1,044-foot freighter Knud Maersk were forced to veer off-course just before 6 p.m. on Dec. 20, passing within a quarter mile of each other, according to U.S. Coast Guard and other reports.

Jamison was forced to put the ferry’s engines in reverse to avoid a collision, shaking the westbound ferry’s 1,074 passengers, but injuring no one.

While the ferry had the legal right-of-way, the two vessels’ operators agreed by radio to a passing plan that would allow the freighter to continue on its northbound course while the ferry slowed.

When the vessels were 2 miles apart, the freighter pilot noted the ferry had not altered its course or speed.

He called the ferry again and asked if he should slow to let the ferry pass. Jamison repeated the assurance that the freighter would be allowed to pass.

One minute later, with the ships about 1 mile apart, the ferry still had not changed course.

Both vessels then took evasive maneuvers to avoid what Coast Guard officials say could have been a disaster.

According to WSF’s investigation, Jamison “failed to monitor the situation correctly,” while members of her crew reported that she was “multitasking and, at least initially, was eating.”

The report further details that Jamison was moving from the radar to the engine controls, while also intermittently using the ferry’s radio and going to the window to use a pair of binoculars.

“It is likely that this multitasking led to Jamision being distracted and not taking substantial action to reduce the risk of collision,” the report states.

But Jamison is not alone in bearing blame for the incident.

According to the report, the freighter’s pilot and crew “allowed a close quarter situation to develop and did not take positive action until the situation was in extremis. In a a maritime setting, blame is almost never apportioned 100 percent to one party; all parties involved must share some amount of responsibility.”

WSF spokeswoman Susan Harris-Huether said disciplinary action for Jamison has not yet been set.

Jamison will likely undergo some level of retraining, but system-wide policy changes are unnecessary, she added.

“Washington State Ferries takes 500 trips around Puget Sound (each year),” Harris-Huether said, “and one time, this happens.

“This is more an individual training issue rather than a procedure issue.”

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