A tugboat that ran aground on the site of the Exxon Valdez disaster came to grief because the captain was too busy playing videogames to pay attention to what he was doing.
In the wake of the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, a navigation safety system was established to help guide tankers through the treacherous waters of Prince William Sound. But the Pathfinder, a tugboat that serves as part of the system, itself ran aground on the submerged Bligh Reef – the same one that gutted the Exxon Valdez – because, according to a U.S. Coast Guard report, the captain was horsing around with videogames.
The incident actually took place in December 2009 but the Coast Guard’s preliminary report wasn’t completed until May 5 of this year. According to the report, Captain Eugene Monsen lost track of his exact position but then changed course anyway, accelerated the tug and “failed to properly communicate with other officers.” He then got busy playing Hearts and other games on the computer, facing away from the ship’s front window.
“The fact that he went to the computer to play videogames 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 says.
The report concluded that Monsen and the second mate had violated Crowley Maritime Corporation policies with their behavior but added that the company should update its policies on the use of cell phones and “recreational electronic devices.” The Coast Guard should also consider implementing new rules regarding the devices, it said, noting that “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 Pathfinder leaked 6410 gallons of diesel fuel into the water after striking the reef. Both the captain and the second mate were subsequently fired.