MARINE COLLISIONS- IGNORANCE OR JUST MISHAPS?
As a Marine Accident/Incident Investigator, I have observed over the length of time that most of the Marine Collision related incidents happen due to improper outlook, wrong decision and poor quality seamanship. Among these, very few incidents are related to Hull or Machinery failure.
I can illustrate my point with a recent incident that occurred with me few months back. I boarded a Bulk Carrier involved in a collision with a small fishing boat. As a result of the collision, 2 out of 9 fishermen were killed. While 3 went missing, the rest of the Fisherman had been rescued by another fishing boat in the vicinity. This incident happened before noon. According to the report of the fishing boat which rescued the fishermen, the position of the incident was a busy coastal area, just a few miles away from 2 large sea ports. Being a Continental Shelf area, it not only has a regular rush of fishing boats; but also is an inshore traffic area for the sea & ocean going vessels.
During the investigation, I found that during the incident the Bridge was manned by an uncertified officer (Trainee Navigating Officer) who was busy playing "SOLITAIRE" on the Bridge Computer. It was also noted that the Master was absent from the bridge (In the traffic the Master’s presence is mandatory in the Bridge).
On interrogating the trainee officer about his negligent look out, he replied that the RADAR was on, which he continuously monitored from his seat.
While enquiring the Master about his absence in the Bridge, he simply refused to cooperate with me. It was reported by the Provincial Maritime Authority that after the collision with the Fishing Boat, the vessel neither cooperated nor tried any rescue attempt for those fishermen. On the contrary, it rather escaped from the area with full speed.
It can be clearly observed that the Watch keeping officer had no clue about the intensity of the incident because of his lack of attention and knowledge. A petty Officer reported that he saw that incident before his eyes. At that time he was busy in the Forecastle deck securing the ropes with other deck hands. The Petty Officer reported the matter to the vessel Chief Officer who relayed this message to the Master of the vessel. However, the Master took no interest, and insisted the Officers and crew to forget the incident and shut their mouths.
The "International Maritime Organization" (IMO) has set out the "Collision Regulation" which has to be followed by all the vessels at sea. The "European Continent" and the "United States" published some special rules for navigating the vessels in Inland Waterways. "Racing Rules for Sailing" govern the conduct of the Yachts and Dingys are also included in the Collision Regulation, yet they differ on some important matters such as overtaking.
The importance of "Look Out" is as important to a Panamax vessel as is to a sailing boat. A seaman must be posted at all times for an alert look out duty. The guidelines for a proper lookout is given in "Collision Regulation" Part B, Rule no 5. Without a proper lookout any incident can occur even in Open Ocean. The best example can be traced back to October 1970, just before noon, when two vessels, each of approximately 10,000 gross registered tons collided in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Later Investigators revealed that both the vessels had not maintained a proper lookout.
In the heavy traffic area, a look out personnel should always report lights and objects, especially about small crafts not visible in the RADAR.
The vessel is required to maintain "Safe Speed" at all times. Every Navigation personnel must bear in their minds the knowledge to reduce speed in emergency. Practically, I have noticed there are very few areas where a vessel navigates with very safe speed until otherwise it is mandatory local regulations for a speed limit. High speed can only be accepted if the vessel is provided with all equipments like "Bow Thruster", "ARPA" fitted, enabling the maneuver of the vessel in case of emergency.
The determination of "Safe Speed" always depends upon the traffic situation, weather conditions of the vicinity.
For instance, few months back I was investigating a pair case of Marine collision. In that case the "Ship A" was in anchorage outside port limit and "Ship B" left the port, proceeding towards the open sea with full sea speed. Unfortunately, the watch officer was a Junior Third Officer in the Bridge and the Master was not available at the time of collision. "Ship B" came with full speed and her bow collided with "Ship A" starboard bow. Both the vessels suffered severe damages. On the investigation I found that "Ship B" duty navigation officer was confused to understand that whether "Ship A" is in the anchorage or underway. The time was before midnight. "Ship A" was fully illuminated. So, the duty navigation officer of "Ship B" was unable to understand the anchor light of the "Ship A". This not only, displayed his poor seamanship but also his inexperience. He was too confused to realize that the navigation light of "Ship A" was switched off. Due to high illumination on deck, the "Ship B" duty navigation officer assumed that the hold cleaning is under progress (at that area, almost every vessels cleaned the cargo holds at night with high illumination). When the duty navigation officer of "Ship B" realized the truth, it was too late to change the course or control the speed of the vessel and collided with "Ship A". On the other hand on "Ship A" no duty officer was present on the anchorage outlook duty in the bridge. Had there been any outlook personnel available on "Ship A", at least he could use "Eldis Lamp" to attract attention of "Ship B" or communicate with her by "VHF Radio".
From the above investigation, it was clear that "Ship B" Navigation Officer also lacked knowledge and familiarization about the RADAR and ARPA on his vessel. He ignored to take compass bearing of "Ship A". All the modern RADAR & ARPA are said to provide 90% of
accurate information of CPA & TCPA between two vessels. Also taking a regular Compass bearing of approaching vessel if the compass bearings not appreciably changing, the collision danger shall be deem to exist. "Collision Regulation" part B rule no 7 has given brief details for all mariners for same.
The question is what action we can take to avoid such incidents? The answer can be found in "Collision Regulation" part B rule no 8.
The key lies in ‘that moment’ when the mariners should take a positive action and for this action we need to use proper seamanship and experience. We need to take action promptly so that we have sufficient time to take action before anything worse happens with the vessel. Normally we must alter our course or reduce speed or simultaneously doing both. Altering a large course is not possible always if there no sufficient sea room available. It would be therefore, be advised to pass the vessel maintaining a safe distance.
All the Navigation Officers from their training period are taught "Collision Regulation" but to use this regulation along with practical seamanship is really a challenge, we need to face this challenge while we are at sea with the presence of our minds. Bon Voyage!
Captain Supriyo Mukherjee, CMS
Master (Unlimited), M.Sc, MBA, CMS, CSM, CSP
Maritime Security Consultant, Marine Investigator