In its latest Safety Digest, UK MAIB provides lessons learned from an incident where a vessel came to a juddering stop as it grounded on a well-charted and marked shoal.
general cargo vessel being navigated using an Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) was sailing through coastal waters on a dark night with a large following sea. The chief officer (C/O) received a call from a local fishing vessel to warn him he was heading into shoal waters, which he acknowledged by replying that he was about to alter course. He then instigated a slight alternation to starboard as per the passage plan. Moments later the vessel came to a juddering stop as it grounded on a well-charted and marked shoal.
The crew were mustered but, after an initial assessment of the damage, the movement of the vessel on the rocks became so violent that they had to lie on the deck of the bridge. The master informed the local coastguard that he intended to abandon ship and within 3 hours the entire crew had been safely evacuated by helicopter. The vessel was successfully refloated by salvors after temporary repairs but declared a constructive total loss and subsequently towed to a scrapping facility.
#1 Plan: The ship’s master prepared the voyage plan within approximately one and a half hours while alongside in the previous port. Information had been insufficiently appraised before the master started plotting courses on the vessel’s ECDIS and so an IMO recommended route, which would have taken the vessel safely past the shoal that the ship grounded on, was missed. It is essential that information is fully assessed before plotting a route, and that enough time is allocated for the critical task of voyage planning.
#2 Check: The manning on the vessel did not allow time for the C/O to conduct the voyage plan in line with the safety management system and so the master completed it, which inadvertently led to no second check of the plan. The officer conducting the voyage plan should undertake a full check of the route on appropriately-scaled electronic navigation chart cells before, in most cases, passing it to the master for verification.
To supplement the visual checks, all ECDIS have a route check function, which will highlight any conflicts with charted data, whether selected or not, that fall within the cross-track limit of each leg defined in the voyage planning process. The master did not use this tool and so an important safety barrier was ignored; in circumventing the checking process, the master became a single point of failure.
#3 Observe: Although the C/O followed the master’s planned route, he ineffectively monitored the vessel’s safe progress along the planned track and conducted a planned course alteration that took the vessel onto the charted shoal, despite acknowledging a warning from a local fishing vessel.
The ECDIS look ahead alarms had been deactivated and so the crossing of a safety contour and proximity to an isolated danger, although charted, did not generate a warning. The C/O and his lookout also failed to see that the vessel was heading to the north of a south cardinal mark, which should immediately have caused concern. It is vital that bridge teams use all available tools to monitor the safe passage of their ship.