The incident

Early on a spring morning a small general cargo vessel was approaching its destination in autopilot. The chief officer was the OOW and a rating was acting as lookout.

The chief officer had previously spoken to the pilot station and was expecting the pilot boat in 30 minutes’ time. He completed the prearrival checklists and then directed the rating to prepare the boarding point for the pilot. The rating left the bridge, leaving the chief officer alone. The chief officer then notified the master and crew, informing them of the time for the pilot’s boarding and the intended standby time.

However, 15 minutes after calling the crew, the chief officer noticed that the pilot boat was approaching the general cargo vessel’s side. Although he could see that the boarding point on the ship was ready, the chief officer was not expecting the pilot boat for another 15 minutes, and neither the master nor the rest of the crew were ready. The chief officer saw there was no other traffic in the area and, taking into consideration the short distance between the bridge and deck he decided to nip down to meet the pilot himself.

Accordingly, when the pilot stepped across from the pilot boat to the general cargo vessel’s main deck he was greeted aboard by the chief officer. As soon as the pilot was safely on the deck, the chief officer ran back to the bridge, leaving the pilot to trail after him.

When the pilot eventually reached the bridge he saw an officer who looked very much like the officer who had met him on deck; a feeling that was amplified when the chief officer greeted him a second time. Feeling sure that the officer on the bridge was the same as the one who had greeted him on the deck, the pilot asked the chief officer a few questions and the chief officer was forced to confirm that he had left the bridge unattended in order to meet the pilot.

Lesson learned:

The requirement to maintain a safe lookout is clear and should need no further emphasis. However, if a watchkeeper needs to leave the bridge for any reason, a competent person must be present on the bridge before the designated OOW leaves it. No matter how genuine the reason or how short an absence, situations can and do change rapidly as the MAIB reports on Coastal Isle (No 9/2013) and Orakai/Margriet (No 16/2015) demonstrate.