As revealed by letters of explanation of the first mate and captain, the ferry Tiiu scraped the seabed twice en route from Heltermaa in Hiiumaa to Rohuküla on the mainland last Friday. The ferry collided with the bottom despite the first mate’s efforts to bring the ferry’s malfunctioning heading control system in line.
«I have never seen the islet of Rukkirahu that close,» a passenger who was on board Tiiu at the time told Postimees. Rukkirahu is a small islet closer to the mainland passengers can normally see in some distance during the crossing. Not straying from the fairway is especially important near the islet as the water is very shallow to the side of the channel.
Two loud bangs could be heard a few minutes to 6.30 p.m. «The ferry scraped the seabed near Rukkirahu and careened perceptibly as a result. The hull creaked loudly. The ferry then regained its balance and continued moving only to scrape against the seabed again,» the eyewitness described.
People stood up from behind tables and looked around puzzled. Some went to the outside deck to find out what had happened. «Soon after we heard the crack, two crew members rushed through the lounge and entered the crew quarters. At that moment I thought something serious had happened,» the passenger said.
The captain and first mate wrote letters of explanations immediately after taking the ferry to port. The first mate reported that the ferry was on autopilot and suddenly started to veer right after entering the Rukkirahu channel.
The officer tried to change course using the autopilot but did not succeed. Next he tried to disengage the autopilot but did not have any more luck. Finally he pulled a series of levers and managed to switch off the autopilot.
By that time it was too late. «When I started to steer the ferry back into the channel manually, we scraped the seabed twice,» the first mate wrote in his letter to the maritime administration.
The captain also wrote a letter of explanation. «I was in my cabin at the time of the incident; I ran for the bridge after I felt the ferry jolt where I saw the first mate making efforts to disengage the autopilot. The autopilot finally disengaged after we pulled a number of levers, and we managed to bring the ferry back into the channel without further collisions,» the captain describes.
Both the captain and first mate wrote the ferry was brought to a stop to carry out a number of internal and external checks. As we did not come across problems, alarms, or leaks, we continued to Rohuküla port. The board of the operator was immediately notified of the incident and the boat’s systems monitored throughout the rest of the journey. Divers inspected the ferry that very evening.
Operator TS Laevad announced on Monday that the Friday incident means Tiiu will not return to the Rohuküla-Heltermaa line this summer. «Tiiu will be out of commission as a result of the accident for up to six weeks. The ship will be docked and given a full inspection to ascertain damage and carry out repairs,» the company’s representative said.
The connection will be serviced by ferries Leiger and Hiiumaa during Tiiu’s absence.
A similar incident happened to Tiiu’s sister ferry Leiger in January when the captain dozed off during a late night trip causing the ferry to veer off course and collide with the seabed twice.