202129 Two many pilot boats

30 May 2021 MARS 2021

As edited from Dutch Safety Board report ‘Perception of pilotage’, 
January 2021

In the early morning darkness a bulk carrier was outbound under pilotage. As the vessel approached the pilot disembarkation point the pilot tender made an approach to the bulk carrier to disembark the pilot. The operator of the pilot tender requested the bridge team of the bulk carrier to set a heading of 030° and to maintain a speed of 10 knots to make a lee. The bridge team of the bulk carrier carried out the request. In the meantime, the captain of the pilot station mother ship (PSMS), which serves as a home base for on-duty pilots and pilot tender crew, but does not deliver pilots to vessels, wanted to reposition the vessel. He visually spotted the outbound bulk carrier and plotted a course to cross its bow. At 04.00, the mother ship was on a course of 300° at a speed of 8 knots. It was showing pilot lights and therefore recognisable as a pilot vessel. The captain then focused his attention on some administrative tasks. At that point, the bulk carrier was sailing on a heading of 045°at a speed of 10 knots. At 04.07, the pilot left the bridge of the bulk carrier and headed to the deck to disembark. The pilot  disembarked on to the pilot tender at 04.11and the pilot tender disengaged from the larger vessel, which was now turning to port, coming to 350° as per pilot’s advice. At this time the mother ship continued on autopilot. The captain was still preoccupied with administrative tasks. At 04.12, the mother ship collided with the starboard bow of the bulk carrier. Several crew members suffered minor injuries; there were no injuries aboard the bulk carrier. The official investigation mentioned that both the pilot and the crew of the bulk carrier assumed that the mother ship was involved in the pilotage operation. They therefore assumed, somewhat justifiably, that it would not hinder their movements.


Lessons learned

  • As mentioned in many past MARS lessons learned, darkness changes everything! It is hard to imagine this accident happening in daylight and good visibility. When in darkness, re-double your attention.
  • As also mentioned in many past MARS lessons learned, being preoccupied with other tasks instead of navigating your vessel changes everything. Put distractions and other tasks away when navigating your ship. 
  • Making assumptions about the movements of other vessels, even in apparently clear-cut circumstances, can have negative consequences. In this case, the bulk carrier’s crew and pilot assumed the PSMS would stay clear, but at no time did they confirm this with the PSMS via VHF communication.