WATCHOUT ECDIS errors caused bulk carrier grounding

01 Feb 2014 The Navigator

A badly placed or compromised ECDIS can cause as many problems as not having an ECDIS at all. The offset position of the ECDIS on the bulk carrier meant that the navigating officer failed to see the visual alarm warning of the grounding. The audible alarm was not connected. Image: MAIB

In this series, we take a look at maritime accident reports and the lessons that can be learned.

What happened?
A bulk carrier was grounded, causing water ingress and damage to the hull plating. The incident happened when the navigator adjusted course to avoid collision with two vessels in the vicinity, but failed to check his own ship’s position and projected track on ECDIS. The ECDIS was the official chart system (no paper) and the unit’s audible anti-grounding alarm was not connected.

Why did it happen?
The Master had handed over navigational duties to the third officer as the vessel entered a narrow strait on autopilot. A safety contour of ten metres had been set on the main ECDIS unit, but this was inadequate for the conditions, given the sailing draught of 10.63 metres. None of the bridge officers had received familiarisation training for the type of ECDIS fitted onboard, so they did not question the inaccurate contour setting.

The third officer adjusted course to avoid collision with a sailing vessel. As he did so, a second ship came into view, necessitating a further adjustment to starboard. The third officer was concentrating on avoiding the collision, and relying on the ECDIS to activate an alarm and warn him of any danger of grounding. The ECDIS unit did, in fact, pick up the risk of grounding as the bulk carrier moved towards shoal ground and activated a visual warning. However, the ECDIS display was set up so that the OOW had to face to starboard to see the screen. Because he was looking ahead at the other vessels, rather than at the screen, the officer did not see the alarm. The audible alarm was not connected and so failed to alert him.
Once he realised the grounding was imminent, the third officer alerted the Master, who attempted to rectify the mistake by ordering the wheel hard-a-port. However, this was not sufficient to prevent the grounding.

The issues

  • Over-reliance on equipment
  • Lack of training
  • Poor bridge layout
  • Lack of support from the Master

What changes have been made?

  • The main ECDIS unit was repositioned adjacent to the starboard radar, making it possible to use the ECDIS while looking forward.
  • The unit was reconnected to the functioning audible alarm.
  • Training was arranged for relevant personnel to cover ECDIS familiarisation onboard the ship.
  • Officers attended a bridge resource management course.