Incidents included:

  • Vessels underway and making way striking vessels secured alongside berths.
  • Vessel underway and making way, and those attempting to come alongside to make fast, making hard contact with berths, dolphins and walkways causing significant damage to the structures.
  • Vessels attempting to come alongside to moor making contact with container gantry cranes.

Often these FFO claims cause significant damage to third party vessels or take a facility and / or infrastructure out of commission, with large loss of use claims levelled against the vessel, alongside the costs of making good the often-substantial damage and associated survey and legal fees.


Examination of the incidents has identified several errors in the build up to the occurrence, however one has been identified as prevalent: The lack of action on the part of the vessel’s bridge team to intervene in navigation and manoeuvring of the vessel whilst the pilot has control of the steering and propulsion, until the situation has deteriorated such that an incident is imminent, and bridge team intervention, if any, is ineffective.

The importance of a pilot, as a source of extensive knowledge of a port and its approaches, and a conduit thought which information and instructions are passed to facilitate the entry / departure of a vessel cannot be overestimated.

Having reviewed the Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) data, in particular the audio, following an incident, it is often apparent that bridge team interaction with the pilot is limited. It is a well-established process that the pilot is on the bridge to offer advice.

The responsibility for the safe navigation of the vessel remains with the bridge team at all times, with the Master retaining responsibility for the navigation of the vessel whilst under pilotage apart from when this responsibility is passed to the officer of the watch, usually while the Master rests during long pilotage operations. Far too often, we are encountering evidence that pilots are being given free rein over the navigation of the vessel, such that the bridge team appear to step back, and to a degree, switch off from closely monitoring the actions of, and orders given by the pilot.

A further probable issue, albeit more difficult to quantify, are cultural differences and an unwillingness on the part of junior officers to question the pilot’s actions or orders, even when it may be apparent that the navigation of the vessel is not being conducted according to the pre-agreed pilotage passage plan.

Navigational Best Practice under Pilotage

  1. The Master/pilot information exchange and bridge team briefing are crucial in ensuring that all parties on the bridge have an appreciation of the agreed pilotage passage plan. This is to ensure that when monitoring the navigation of the vessel whilst under pilotage, they are all in a position to question the actions or orders of a pilot when some aspect of the navigation does not appear in accordance with what was previously agreed, or best practice.
  2. Deck officers need to remember that the pilot is present on the bridge to offer advice in relation to the navigation, although it is accepted that the pilot will ordinarily issue steering and propulsion orders, and, in this regard, it should be clear, at all times, who has control of the steering and propulsion. When under pilotage, all orders given by the pilot should be checked to ensure that

    (a) they are in accordance with the pre-agreed pilotage passage plan,
    (b) they are reasonable in the circumstances, and
    (c) that they have been carried out correctly.

    If there is any doubt as to the actions and / or orders of the pilot, these should be questioned, and if necessary actions as may be necessary for the safety of the vessel taken without delay.

  3. When approaching a berth, it should be ensured that sufficient tugs in accordance with port/terminal requirements are made fast in good time. The angle of approach to a berth should also be monitored, such that prior to coming alongside the vessel is made parallel to the berth.
  4. The speed of approach towards the berth should be closely monitored, both in a fore and aft direction, and athwartships both at the bow and stern, and all way taken off in good time prior to manoeuvring alongside. It should be considering that the kinetic energy imparted by a vessel in a fixed structure increases exponentially with the vessel’s speed, and that an average design velocity for a vessel coming alongside a berth is only 0.3 knots, for reference, normal walking speed is approximately ten times faster.

In several cases significant damage has been caused due to excessive athwartships speed when vessels have been moving bodily sideways toward a berth, with rotation of the hull around the pivot point due to tug action / the use of thrusters exacerbated the speed at one end of the vessel, causing high point loadings when contact has been made between the hull in way of the shoulder or quarter and the berth.

When action is taken to restore ship safety, following a deterioration in the navigational situation, the following factors need to be considered:

  • The position of the vessel’s pivot point should be considered when moving ahead and astern at slow speed, and how external forces, including tugs and tidal streams will affect the hull and turn the vessel, depending on the location of the pivot point.
  • It should be remembered that at slow speeds, rudder action will be ineffective, and the ship will mostly have to rely on attendant tugs to manoeuvre.
  • At higher speeds thrusters will be ineffective. And their effectiveness will also be a function of draught / immersion.
  • In case the speed has to be reduced there is always a time lag between the telegraph order being given, the action of the main engine and the actual reaction of the vessel’s hull.
  • For the ships with the fixed pitch propellers, reversing of the engine will take additional time.
  • If running at a speed above manoeuvring full ahead, there may be a delay before the engine is available for use in manoeuvring.
  • The number of main engine starts is not infinite, rather it is limited by the amount of compressed air available.

It can be seen from the foregoing that bridge team and bridge resource management are very important facets in ensuring that operations involving a pilot are conducted satisfactorily. Training in bridge team and bridge resource management have been part of the training regime for deck officers at many companies for some time. The importance of such training should not be underestimated, and it is recommended that deck officers undertake these training courses periodically.

Voyage Data Recorders

The Club continues to encounter situations where VDR data has not been backed-up following an incident.

Although it is appreciated that following a serious navigational event the bridge team may be more focussed on remedial actions necessary to mitigate the effects of such an incident and to place the vessel in a position of safety, it should be ensured that emergency response checklists and best practices instil the need and reflect on the importance of saving the data on the VDR for future analysis following a serious navigational occurrence.