A Very Close Call

Report Text:

We (yacht) were sailing, aux. engine working, helping a bit.  A fishing vessel (ID No. supplied) approached on our port side; not fishing, full speed, booms up.  This vessel was on a collision course.  We still think we had right of the way.  The fishing vessel made no attempt to alter course.  50m before colliding he suddenly lowered his booms, thus giving himself the excuse of running into us “in a legal way”!  We turned hard to port and missed him by less than 15 meters.  The fisherman did not reduce speed, indicating he was still not fishing.  Her skipper watched us from his cabin…

We know we must stay away from fishermen at work; they alter course unpredictably, sail on auto-helm and do not answer VHF calls.  BUT….

1)     This one was not fishing

2)     This one had no intention whatsoever to alter course

3)     This one did nothing to avoid collision

4)     What’s worse: he deliberately decided to have his way

5)     This one realised the consequences of people getting killed

6)     By lowering his booms he tried to provide himself an argument to tell the judge: “I was fishing, sorry!”

7)     We call this a murder attempt.  My wife was resting inside.  Had I been making coffee, he would have killed us in cold blood.

If you decide that we did have right of the way, we aim to contact the police and charge this fisherman.

However, I can’t see what you could do to prevent situations as described.  Both parties carry “Rules to Prevent Collisions” onboard.

CHIRP Comment

There are a number of points of interest in this non-UK account.  Firstly the incident involves a yacht which is motor-sailing (without showing the signals required by Rule 25(e)) and a “fishing” vessel which is not fishing; so, despite any appearance to the contrary, we are discussing an incident involving two power driven vessels approaching each other in a standard Rule 15 crossing situation.

The “fishing” vessel should have given way to the “sailing” vessel and should, so far as possible, have taken early and substantial action to keep well clear (Rule 16).  The failure to do so in the reported circumstances was a clear contravention of the Rules.  There is correspondingly a doubt as to whether the risk of collision was assessed in accordance with the requirements of Rule 7.

The lowering of the booms by the give-way vessel may have been an attempt to indicate she was fishing or may have been in preparation for fishing, but in any event she was the give-way vessel.

The “sailing” vessel was correct to keep her course and speed, but may have taken action to avoid collision by her manoeuvre alone, as soon as it became apparent to her that the vessel required to keep out of the way was not taking appropriate action in compliance with the Rules (Rule 17(a) (i) (ii)). The opportunity to act provided by the Rules does not appear to have been considered or taken.

If early action is taken by a “stand-on” vessel, it should, if the circumstances of the case admit, not involve an alteration of course to port for a vessel on her own port side (Rule 17(c)).

The “sailing” vessel found herself so close that collision could not be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, and she took such action as was considered the best aid to avoid collision (Rule 17(b)) and this was fortunately successful.

As a final point, the Maritime Advisory Board would like to endorse and remind mariners of their obligations under Rule 5:

“Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.”

Those below will have to make their own coffee!