WATCHOUT Collision highlights competency gaps

01 Feb 2016 The Navigator

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

What happened?
A general cargo ship and a bulk carrier were travelling in a Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) at night when they collided, causing damage to both vessels. The collision was brought about by the cargo ship turning into the path of the bulk carrier in order to avoid a fishing trawler in the vicinity. Weather conditions were clear and visibility was good. The general cargo vessel was on an autopilot-controlled route and the Second Officer had just taken over the watch. On checking the radar, the Second Officer took note of the bulk carrier’s presence. He later spotted a fishing trawler off the starboard bow, but did not use any AIS data to find out her status The Second Officer on the general cargo ship assessed that his ship needed to give way to the trawler. However, the trawler’s skipper was also making arrangements to change course. An intervention on the radio by Dover Coastguard was timely and well-intended but, inadvertently, it almost certainly influenced the Second Officer on the general cargo ship into taking action, altering course towards the bulk carrier. The Second Officer gave no sound signal to warn of the change of course. He also failed to notice the bulk carrier’s proximity to his vessel. At no point did he check visually, nor by radar, that his intended manoeuvres were safe. The resultant switch in direction caused his ship to collide with the bulk carrier.

Why did it happen?
The Second Officer was relatively inexperienced and had never taken the watch alone at night before. He didn’t call for help from the Master or other senior officer, and did not have adequate situational awareness himself to cope with the situation. He did not make proper use of visual checks, nor the navigational equipment at his disposal, so was unable to react in good time to course changes made by the other vessels involved. By the time he realised what was happening, he was unable to prevent the collision.

The issues

  • The Second Officer was very inexperienced and he had not yet developed sufficient competency to keep a bridge watch in the Dover Strait at night by himself.
  • After taking action to avoid the fishing vessel, he was uncertain as to the action he should take next and he lost situational awareness.
  • Although it was dark, the Second Officer on the general cargo vessel was not supported by an additional lookout. He did not call for the Master, nor anyone else to double check his decisions.
  • The Master’s decision to allow an inexperienced officer to keep the bridge watch by himself in the Dover Strait at night was ill-judged and contrary to international requirements.

What changes have been made?

  • The ship manager has adopted a more structured approach to the training and development of its junior officers. It also issued instructions to its fleet regarding the use of an additional lookout and electronic aids for collision avoidance.
  • The Merchant Navy Training Board has started to prepare guidance for companies and seagoing officers covering junior officer development and confidence building.
  • In addition, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has taken action aimed at improving the vessel traffic services provided by Dover Coastguard.

This summary is an edited version of UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report 25/2014

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