The incident

Vessel A was a 2,692 TEU container ship underway. Shortly after commencing the sea passage, visibility worsened, with dense fog and SW winds at Beaufort scale 6.

On the bridge were the Master, OOW and a lookout.

At 20:00, the Second Officer took over the watch from the Third Officer. The visibility was only 0.1 NM and the fog was persistent into the evening.

The Master stayed on the bridge the entire time. Vessel A was maintaining a speed of 17 knots on a course of 240 degrees, the vessel was sounding fog signals.

 

Timeline of events

  • Vessel B was on the port bow about 3 NM from vessel A, making a speed of 6 knots on a 010 degree course according to the ARPA. Vessel B was about 11 o'clock from vessel A and crossing from port to starboard. The CPA was 0.0 NM and so a risk of collision existed.
  • The Master saw the name of vessel B on the AIS and called it on VHF channel 16 but had no response. He also used the searchlight to flash at the direction of vessel B as a warning signal. It is unlikely that vessel B would have seen this.
  • The Master ordered hand steering and an alteration to port to 210 degrees, in order to let vessel B pass ahead of vessel A. Shortly afterwards, vessel B started to alter to starboard, resulting in a distance of 0.5 NM between them. The Master on vessel A ordered hard to port.
  • Collision: The vessels collided, and vessel B struck the starboard side of vessel A. The Master on vessel A now saw that vessel B was a fishing vessel. However, the Master of vessel A continued the voyage at the same speed and course.

After a while, the VTS called vessel A and told them to stop and await the coast guard. At the time of the collision, the fishing vessel was fishing by casting fishing pots overboard.

 

Lessons learned

  • The Master and OOWs must always consider the safe speed of the vessel. The crew may be under the impression that they have to maintain a high speed to meet a schedule and this can create conflicts of interest between meeting a schedule and sailing at a safe speed. This is something that the Master and Owners must deal with in their safety management procedures to ensure that the vessel is navigated safely. In addition, the greater risk of sailing at a high speed must always be evaluated by the Master and instructions conveyed to the bridge officers. Rule 6 advises that a vessel needs to be able to avoid a collision as per the prevailing situation. Proceeding at higher speeds will also attract a higher degree of blame when the courts apportion liability between the vessels involved in collision.
  • The bridge team on vessel A was aware of vessel B for about 12 minutes before the collision. Despite the clear indication that the vessels were on collision courses, the Master of vessel A altered to port, towards vessel B and in contravention of rule 19.

Under no circumstances should a vessel alter to port towards a vessel on its port bow in restricted visibility as vessel A did in this collision.

The Master on vessel A stated that this manoeuvre was because he believed that vessel B was the give-way vessel and that vessel B would pass forward of vessel A. Under Rule 19, both vessels have an equal obligation to avoid a collision.

  • It is not acceptable to continue a voyage after a collision and this was a very bad decision by the Master, the Club notes. He should have ensured that all crew on vessel B were safe before continuing the voyage, which he did not do.
  • The Master had been on the bridge for five hours when the collision occurred. It is unknown how long he had been awake prior to this. However, according to the flag state investigation it is unlikely that the Master suffered from fatigue.
  • In this case, vessel B was plotted but the bridge team on vessel A did not act on the information and assumed that vessel B would alter course. It is important to ensure that bridge officers are well trained so that they can take critical decisions quickly and correctly. They must understand the consequences of their actions, appreciate when no action needs to be taken, and know how to prevent a close quarters situation.
  • Some SMS stipulate minimum CPA limits and manning levels in the navigation policy, depending on visibility and during critical operations such as approaching or leaving a port. However, generic requirements in the navigation policy may not illustrate to officers what are acceptable limits and what are unacceptable limits. Many of these issues are covered in our Bridge Instructions booklet.