202421: Hit and run with two fatalities

27 Mar 2024 MARS

As edited from MAIB (UK) report 5/2023 https://tinyurl.com/MARS202421

A dredger was being transited to winter quarters after a season of dredging, with only two crew members remaining on board. 

In the early morning hours, and in darkness, the dredger entered a Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) at a speed of about six knots. The lone OOW was on the bridge while the other crew member was asleep in his cabin.

Meanwhile, a loaded bulk carrier was also proceeding in the TSS in the same direction as the dredger, but was about 8nm behind and to port. The bulk carrier’s OOW was sitting in the navigation chair and using his tablet computer to engage on a video chat site. At one point the OOW even turned on the interior lights of the bulk carrier’s bridge to show his surroundings to the person on the other end of the chat. He continued to chat sporadically with various individuals until 02:02 when he altered course while continuing with his online chat.

Shortly afterwards, he switched on the searchlight to show a chat user the ship’s deck and cargo on the hatches forward. He then continued to engage with several individuals on the chat site. At 03:03, the bulk carrier’s AIS registered the dredger as a dangerous target 2.2 nm ahead on the starboard bow, with a closest point of approach (CPA) of 0.88nm and a time to CPA of nearly 20 minutes. About 18 minutes later, with the vessel close to a course alteration waypoint, he told the chat user that he needed to alter course and adjusted the autopilot to 270 degrees. The dredger was now bearing 289 degrees at 0.82nm range (see picture 1).

Three minutes later, both vessels exited the TSS and entered a precautionary area. The OOW on the bulk carrier once again connected with a chat user and conversed with them while altering course. Now, the bulk carrier was steering 270 degrees with the dredger on a steady bearing of 298 degrees and a range of 0.6nm (picture 2). Very soon after, the OOW was heard to exclaim ‘Wait, wait, wait!’ He then pulled back the main engine propeller pitch control lever, switched on a second steering motor and disengaged the autopilot. Fifteen seconds later, he moved the telegraph to full astern.

Notwithstanding these last minute attempts, the bulk carrier collided with the port side of the dredger at a relative speed of 8.7kts (picture 3). The bulk carrier’s Master awoke when he felt a bump; assuming it was a large wave hitting the bow, he did not consider it unusual and tried to resume sleep. The collision caused the dredger to roll over and capsize in as little as 20 seconds. Neither of the two crew members survived.

Following the collision, the bulk carrier’s OOW did not immediately call the Master or raise the alarm, but returned the ship to its original course and speed. The dredger’s automatic emergency radio beacon (EPIRB) transmission alerted local authorities and they determined that the two ships might have collided. Only after queries from shore authorities and about 15 minutes after the accident did the OOW call the Master and explain they might have collided with another vessel.

The investigation found, among other things, that the bulk carrier’s OOW had reduced situational awareness due to unnecessary distractions; he had not seen the dredger until the last moment. The tablet had been almost constantly in use for over two hours, during which no interaction with navigational equipment such as target acquisition on the radar or target interrogation on the ECDIS was recorded on the Voyage Data Recorder (VDR). Additionally, the bridge equipment was not set optimally, and the alarms designed to warn of dangerous situations had been disabled, silenced or switched off. The investigation also found that, subsequent to tests after the accident, the OOW had been under the influence of alcohol at thetime of the tragedy.


Lessons learned

  • Time and again the lack of an adequate lookout has contributed to vessel collisions. In this case, both vessels had a lone OOW in darkness.
  • Poor situational awareness due to distractions is a common theme in collisions.
  • Following a collision at sea it is every mariner’s duty not only to ensure the safety of their vessel and crew but also that of the other vessel. Any other reaction is not only unethical and unprofessional but probably criminal.
  • Danger alarms on navigation instruments such as AIS, RADAR and ECDIS are safety features that, under almost all circumstances, need to be activated while underway.
  • Alcohol does not mix with work. Not only are reaction time and coordination affected, but also overall judgment. For example, in some road vehicle ‘hit and run’ accidents where the driver has been under the influence of alcohol, it has been shown that they have deliberately decided not to stop to help the victim. This seems to have been the case in this accident as well.