A trip to the toilet by a cargoship captain who had been drinking wine ended up causing a grounding off Denmark, a report reveals.

The 3,800-dwt Beaumaiden (built 2008) got stuck off the Baltic island of Bornholm on 18 October last year, the Danish Maritime Accident Investigation Board (DMAIB) said.

The vessel sustained minor damage but there was no pollution.

The accident report paints a sorry picture of a lax safety culture on board, however.

The Beaumaiden had left Antwerp loaded with 3,000 tonnes of fertiliser bound for Estonia.

At noon, the master was relieved on the bridge by the third officer.

He went to his cabin, watched a film and took a nap. He woke up at 17:00 local time and went to the mess to have dinner. Afterwards, he went to his cabin to watch another film while he drank a glass of wine.

Captain appeared normal

Just before 20:00 hours, the captain went to the bridge to relieve the chief officer, the report reveals.

The pair had a short conversation and the watch was handed over.

"The chief officer did not notice anything unusual about the master nor did he notice that the master had been drinking wine," DMAIB said.

By then it was dark and the master was alone on the bridge because it was not common practice to have an able seaman on duty at night-time to keep lookout, the agency added.

During the watch, the master sat in the navigational chair and made several phone calls to friends while he listened to music.

After a while, he went to his cabin to fetch a full wine glass.

Faulty flush

A few hours later, the master had to go to the lavatory, but he knew that the toilet on the bridge did not flush properly, so he had to use the one in his cabin, three decks below.

While in the cabin, he felt tired and lay down on the bed to rest. He then fell asleep.

The vessel was in effect unmanned for four hours.

At 02:55, Danish authorities tried to contact the ship and attempted to scramble a vessel to intercept it, as it was heading straight for shore.

The chief engineer was asleep in his cabin when he was suddenly awoken by the Beaumaiden violently vibrating during the grounding.

The time was 03:25.

When the engineer opened the door to the bridge, he heard loud music and noise from numerous alarms, but no watch officer.

Culture of drinking

The bridge on the Beaumaiden, which was unmanned for four hours before grounding. Photo: DMAIB

The DMAIB said company policies meant the relieved officer should assess the condition of the relieving officer to ensure they were fit for duty.

After the grounding, Danish police determined that the master was under the influence of alcohol.

"Consuming alcohol was allowed on board, and beer was available for the crew to buy from the bonded stores," the accident report said.

"It was the master’s responsibility to arrange for delivery of alcohol on board and to keep the record of its distribution among the crew members."

But no one under the influence was allowed to keep watch, the agency said.

The DMAIB's investigations indicated that it was common practice among some seafarers to occasionally consume alcohol.

The report concluded that the captain's alcohol consumption might have contributed to the feeling of sleepiness and his proneness to falling asleep and not waking up during the grounding.

Alcohol a contributing factor

"It is likely that the influence of alcohol impaired his judgement and contributed to the decision to leave the bridge and to rest on the bed whilst in his cabin," it added.

The bridge navigational watch alarm system had been disabled, because it was in an inconvenient place, and the master considered it annoying to move constantly from the navigational chair to reset the alarm, the report found.

The DMAIB later received information that the ship management company Vertom Bereederungs of Germany has initiated preventive actions as a response to the accident.

The manager told the board: "Following the grounding of Beaumaiden, the company will revise the drug and alcohol policy and uphold a zero-tolerance policy to drugs and alcohol on board the company's ships."