WATCHOUT Reef grounding reveals Aid to Navigation challenges
In this series, we take a look at maritime accident reports and the lessons that can be learned
A container ship was underway at night. Estimated time of arrival had been calculated using the passage plan, but this failed to account for unfavourable currents. Once the Master became aware, he instructed the watch-keeper to deviate from the planned course lines to shorten the distance and seek out a route less affected by the currents.
The originally planned route would have taken the vessel two nautical miles north of a large reef. However, the watch-keeper reduced this to one mile to save time. The course was then altered further without anyone making allowances for compass error or sideways ‘drift’. As a result, the ship headed directly for the reef. The reef had not been programmed into the ship’s radar, nor were there any light beacons or other physical aids to navigation on it. The Master, having resumed command to guide the vessel into port, received virtually no information on her position, nor any warnings about the reef and its danger to navigation.
The ship ran aground at full speed. The hull was severely damaged, causing the vessel to break in two. Around 200 tonnes of heavy fuel oil leaked into the sea and a substantial amount of cargo was lost.
Why did it happen?
While the container grounding was mainly attributed to poor navigational techniques and lack of training, it also raised questions about local procedures regarding aids to navigation. An inquiry found that a new type of virtual aid to navigation was being used locally, but had not yet been fully tested and endorsed by the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities.
- The crew failed to follow standard good practice for planning or navigation watch-keeping
- The handover to the Master was managed incorrectly, with inadequate information provided
- Better provision of physical or virtual aids to navigation on or around the reef could have offered an earlier warning and prevented the grounding.
What changes have been made?
- The ship’s company has re-evaluated its safety management systems and navigational and handover procedures
- The maritime authority of the country where the grounding took place is collecting data on shipping movements around its coast and closely controlling the use of virtual aids to navigation.
THE CONTAINER SHIP GROUNDING... RAISED QUESTIONS ABOUT LOCAL PROCEDURES REGARDING AIDS TO NAVIGATION. AIDS TO NAVIGATION ARE VALUABLE - BUT DON’T USE THEM AS YOUR ONLY SOURCE OF INFORMATION