My angling boat was engaged in fishing operations in the approaches to the Solent. I was at anchor displaying a black ball. I had AIS class A and B running and the vessel is fitted with a large commercial radar reflector. It was daylight and visibility was excellent.
I saw a large ship travelling east down the Solent and then watched her turn south onto a direct collision course with my vessel. When she first turned she was about four miles away so I had no real concerns at that point. However, when she had halved that distance and shown no deviation, I started to become concerned. I checked AIS and saw that she was travelling at 12.8knots and confirmed she was on a direct collision course.
I tried calling the ship three times on channel 16 but got no reply. I then called Solent Coast Guard and made them aware of the situation whilst starting my engine and preparing to cut my anchor line.
The Coast Guard raised the ship and instructed them to go to channel 67. On 67 they made the ship aware of the situation and whilst talking to them I saw the ship turn to its port. The ships radio operator said they had been monitoring channels 12,13 and 16 but had not heard us call although the Coast Guard did hear me. The ship confirmed it had turned to port to avoid us and then passed about three hundred yards in front of us.
I have several concerns:
Why was a ship this size not using the deep water channel but cutting a corner?
Why did it not respond to AIS, radar or radio?
Why did it not see us earlier?
When it made the deviation south onto a collision course why was this not recognised immediately?
We sent the text of the report to the manager of the ship. The manager subsequently advised that, having looked into the circumstances, he did not believe that the ship had acted in any inappropriate manner, nor contravened any regulations.
In dealing with reports of close encounters between leisure craft and commercial vessels, we encourage those on the bridge of a ship to envisage the situation as it would have appeared from the cockpit of the boat, and vice versa. We make the following general observations about his report:
1) A vessel angling is not, in terms of the ColRegs, a vessel engaged in fishing. An angling vessel at anchor may be reliant on her anchor ball being identifiable as such by approaching vessels. We would estimate that this might be at a distance of about 2 miles or less. A vessel travelling at, say 12 knots will travel this distance in 10 minutes, so there is not a lot of time for an approaching vessel to assess the situation and to take avoiding action.
- Until the boat is identified as being at anchor, it is possible that the bridge watch-keepers on an approaching vessel may assume incorrectly that it is underway. The movements of small craft may, from the perspective of a watch-keeping officer, seem unpredictable. There may thus be a tendency for ships to hold course and speed whilst watching to see what actions the boat may take. (In saying this, we are not condoning any non-compliance with the ColRegs).
- Many professional mariners may regard a passing distance of more than one cable in confined waters as being adequate. Nevertheless, as seen from a boat, this may appear close.
- Since the introduction of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), the primary means of distress and urgency alerting on VHF has been by Digital Selective Calling. As there is no longer a requirement for commercial vessels to keep a listening watch on channel 16, a small vessel should not rely on a call on channel 16 being received by an approaching vessel. Nevertheless, it is the general practice on many vessels to keep a listening watch on channel 16, although it should be borne in mind that a call on this channel might be missed amongst all the other communications. In contrast, a DSC call sounds an alert on the bridge of the vessel being called. (Note that a recreational craft will need an AIS receiver to identify the MMSI number of an approaching vessel if wanting to make a DSC call to her.)
- The purpose of the deep draught channel is to allow safe passage by deep draught vessels such as laden tankers. There is no obligation on other vessels to use it.
In general, there does appear to be a significant risk associated with the decision to anchor an angling boat in this busy area that is being transited by various types of vessel. The bridge watch-keeping complement on these vessels may range from a large team such as on a liner or warship to a single person on some other vessels. (Again, in saying this we are not condoning the failure of any vessel to keep a proper look-out) The risk can be mitigated by the angling boat keeping a good all-round look-out and proper situational awareness, being prepared to weigh anchor if necessary, and alerting the Coast Guard if a hazardous situation is arising. The angling boat in this report was commendably taking these precautions.