Vessel “xxx”, (a bulk carrier), was on our port quarter with a heading 077° and a speed of 13.3 knots. Own vessel, (laden VLCC), was proceeding on heading 063° and a speed of 12.7kts.

It was a slightly doubtful as to whether this was a Rule 13 situation in which “xxx” was overtaking us, or a crossing situation as per Rules 15 and 16 in which she was the giveway vessel and we were the ‘stand-on’ vessel as per Rule 17. Given the relative aspects of the vessel, we perceived it as an overtaking situation and in line with Rule 13(c), good seamanship would dictate that it was an overtaking situation. Either way, we were the stand-on vessel and “xxx” was supposed to take avoiding action. No avoiding action was observed from “xxx” and with a CPA of 0.2 miles and TCPA of 30 minutes, we decided to contact her on VHF to ask for her intentions. She replied that she intended to maintain course and speed.

We therefore decided to take our own actions and altered course 30° to starboard in order to maintain a safe distance of at least 1.5 miles. By altering to starboard, we let her overtake us at a safe distance. Due to the relatively small difference in speed between the two vessels, we were ‘pushed’ off our intended track by about 3 nautical miles. As we were in the open ocean, we considered this the safest action given the complete ignorance of the other vessel in judging the situation.

Lessons learned

  1. Never trust the give-way vessel (even in the open ocean). Remain vigilant and whenever it becomes clear that no actions are being taken on the other vessel, challenge her and carefully consider your own options.
  2. 0.2 miles passing distance in an open ocean situation cannot be considered as a safe distance for a fully laden VLCC. The inclement weather conditions were an additional factor.
  3. When ample sea room is available, stay well clear of other vessels. If it becomes clear that another vessel is not complying with COLREGS, consider your own options to avoid danger (always in accordance with COLREGS).
  4. Remember that Rules 13c and 14c explicitly state that when you are in doubt, you have to consider the position as an overtaking (or end-on) situation and act accordingly.

The Maritime Advisory Board commented that this was a good example of positive action by the stand-on vessel in a straightforward case of COLREGS violation.

CHIRP discourages the use of VHF for collision avoidance. In this case, however, the request was not likely to create a VHF assisted collision, but was simply intended to request the other vessel’s intentions, following which the Master of own vessel correctly decided to take early and ample action to avoid collision. CHIRP would additionally comment that in open waters there is absolutely no need for vessels to be in close proximity to one another.