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Crewmember claims yacht was 'unseaworthy' when it collided with 49m tanker

There are still unanswered questions concerning the incident that involved a 63m superyacht and a 49m tanker in the Bahamas…

On 23 December 2021, the 63m motoryacht Utopia IV was involved in a collision with the 49m tanker Tropic Breeze in the Bahamas. The tanker subsequently sank but, fortunately, no lives were lost, and according to various sources, the tanker’s cargo on board included ‘non-persistent materials only’.

While this accident could have been far worse, it should also be highlighted that the initial reports surrounding the incident were limited and somewhat insubstantial considering the gravity of it. 

One can’t help but question the deafening silence that followed after hurried official statements had been made praising the rescuers while showcasing gratitude for the limited environmental consequences. While that may be fair, there are still questions that remain unanswered from patchy reports. Now, almost one year later, one of the crewmembers who was on board at the time has decided to speak out against what they deem to be injustices leading up to, and following on from, the incident.

It should be noted that some of these claims have not been verified by evidence. Multiple individuals and organisations were contacted for this article, but very few were willing to go on the record to either confirm or deny these allegations.

What happened?

Utopia IV was involved in a collision with tanker Tropic Breeze on 23 December, 2021, sometime between 10pm and 10.15pm. The yacht was on an eight-hour passage through the Bahamas, cruising at a speed of 22 knots, with seven guests on board who were chartering the vessel.

The captain was on watch for the first four hours of this passage, but the crewmember has claimed that they actually left the bridge twice in the first hour, disappearing for up to 20 minutes at a time. Twelve minutes into the second disappearance, the superyacht was in a collision with the tanker. 

The radar and all the electronic equipment on board the yacht were in working order. However, the crewmember claims that the issue was that the radar was only zoomed out to about a six-mile radius, and in the time that the captain had disappeared from the bridge, the vessel had already travelled around 12 nautical miles.

The tanker sank in a matter of minutes, but unfortunately, nobody on board Utopia IV could rescue the seven crew on Tropic Breeze. According to the crewmember, Utopia IV didn’t have a rescue tender or a ladder or a pilot door. The crewmember said several of the crew on board sustained major injuries during the collision.

Utopia is a 10,000HP jet boat driven by 4 MTU engines, therefore, even if the vessel did have a stern ladder, it would have beeen impossible to recover anyone from 2m below the swim platform with the main engines still running. M/Y Amara, a nearby 57m Feadship, was able to deploy its crew on its rescue tender and save those on board the tanker.

The collision led to the tanker sinking 2,000 feet below sea level. The crewmember claims the tanker was carrying 150,000 gallons of gasoline and 10,000 gallons of propane, although the management company in charge of the tanker has denied these claims. The tanker’s cargo on board included non-persistent materials ­– all of which floated to the surface of the water and subsequently dissipated into the atmosphere, meaning the clean-up action was deemed only minimal.

The 32-year-old tanker was found by the authorities to be fully compliant with all national and international safety and vessel integrity standards just a few weeks before the incident. Due to the depth of the ocean at the location where the incident occurred, it was decided by authorities that the tanker could not be salvaged safely.

What has happened since?

The crewmember shared a recording of a meeting which took place early afternoon on Christmas Day (roughly 36 hours after the collision). The meeting involved the owner’s in-house lead attorney, the DPA of the charter company, and the Captain and Crew (apart from the Chief Engineer).

In the clip, the attorney promises every crewmember that their wages would be paid to them until they were fit for duty or until they reached maximum medical improvement. Despite this, the crew were informed that the owner had refused to pay their wages the very next day once their January paycheck never showed up.

At least one of the crewmembers has a long-term injury; they are awaiting life-changing surgery and say they haven’t been given a penny since the day of the crash. The legal team who were involved in this have not yet responded to a request for an interview.

Tropic Breeze was one of the smallest tankers in a fleet used to deliver resources to some of the less accessible islands in the Bahamas. Because of its size and specifications, it was the only tanker capable of delivering to these smaller islands, and there were initial worries about the need to dredge around some of the ports to allow space for bigger tankers.

 The management company that looks after the fleet has confirmed that the situation will be ‘looked after’ by other vessels currently in the fleet and by the acquisition of another ship. The management company also confirmed that nobody on board Tropic Breeze was seriously injured, but they could not speak on behalf of those on board Utopia IV.

These claims are incredibly illuminating and, if anything, showcase just how easy it is to uncover all the facts of a major incident in the superyacht industry. There is also evidence that suggests the yacht was placed under arrest on the 1st of December 2021. The owner’s legal team were contacted but there have not yet replied, the yacht management company were also contacted but have not responded. The insurance company that were allegedly associated with the yacht were also contacted for an interview, but did not formally respond.

This is an ongoing investigation, and SuperyachtNews will report on the case with caution. If you are an industry expert who would like to offer any insight or thoughts on this incident, please reach out to newsdesk@thesuperyachtgroup.com

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Crewmember claims yacht was 'unseaworthy' when it collided with 49m tanker

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