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MAIB: Failure of bearings led to boating accident

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch is reminding boaters of the importance of maintenance following two deaths in a boating accident thought to have been caused by the failure of bearings.

The accident took place in October 2022 when the mono-hulled offshore powerboat Awesome was returning to its home port in the British Virgin Islands, when according to the MAIB report into the accident, it suddenly veered to starboard, then rolled ‘violently to port, ejecting ten of the occupants’.

“Awesome ended up in a vertical position, with its bow in the air, briefly staying afloat before it started to sink by the stern,” said the report.

A 32-year-old female and five-year old girl did not survive. None of the occupants were wearing lifejackets or personal floatation devices.

From witness testimony and expert analysis, the MAIB has concluded that it is probable that Awesome was travelling at about 60mph when the port drive shaft universal joint failed, the flailing shaft then severed a steering system hydraulic pressure hose.

“This resulted in a loss of pressure in the steering system, which allowed both stern drive units to snap over to full starboard lock while Awesome was still travelling at about 60mph,” the report continued.

Three local boats were quickly on scene, and ten of the eleven occupants were found and taken to the shore.

Search effort

Five-year-old Brianna Graham was taken to hospital, where she was declared dead shortly afterwards.

Despite an extensive and coordinated search effort, the eleventh occupant, 32-year-old Kristal Black, remained missing.

Divers later found her body in Awesome’s forward cabin during a pre-salvage inspection of the wreck on the seabed.

The investigation concluded that the loss of control of Awesome was the result of a sudden mechanical failure.

The report stated that Awesome’s owner was an experienced leisure boater who had driven boats in the waters around the BVI for many years.

Although he did not hold any formal boating qualifications, he had experience of working with engines and undertook most of the boat’s maintenance, engaging the services of a local professional marine engineer to assist with more complex aspects.

The report concluded: “The failure was a sudden event, with no evidence of fatigue. A lack of lubrication caused a trunnion bearing to seize, leading to heavy wear of the trunnion and yoke, this is likely to have occurred over a prolonged period of time.”

Awesome, a 11.3m mono-hulled offshore powerboat, was built in 1995. She was powered by twin supercharged Chevrolet V8 engines, each with around 1,000hp maximum output.

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