As a vessel approached a harbour at night in good visibility, an OOW detected a second vessel 9nm on their port side which was also heading for the port. Radar plotting showed that the second vessel would cross their bow at only 0.3nm – a close quarters situation in which the second vessel was the give-way vessel according to the Collision Regulations.
The lookout in the first vessel (the stand-on vessel) kept a close watch on the give-way vessel, which appeared not to be taking action to avoid collision in accordance with the Collision Regulations, so the OOW called the give-way vessel on VHF to request the give-way vessel’s intentions. It became evident during the call that there was little monitoring of the situation from the give-way vessel. After a while the OOW of the give-way vessel stated he would like the stand-on vessel to “just keep going” and cross his stern.
The OOW of the stand-on vessel was not happy with this reply and stated that they would maintain their course and speed and asked the give-way vessel to take early and effective action in accordance with the Collision Regulations. The OOW of the give-way vessel said “OK, I will do my best to keep clear”
The OOW in the stand-on vessel monitored the situation for another 3 minutes by which time the range between the two vessels had reduced to 2nm. It was apparent that the give-way vessel was not taking any action so the OOW in the stand-on vessel altered course 40° to starboard to parallel the second vessel’s course, and reduced speed to 4 knots. To avoid any chance of miscommunications, no further radio calls were attempted.
The action by the OOW resulted in the second vessel passing clear at a range of 1.7 nm down their port side. Once the give-way vessel was safely past and clear, the stand-on vessel resumed her course and increased speed.
Using ECDIS it was confirmed that the give-way vessel had not taken action to keep clear as agreed on the VHF.
CHIRP confirmed with the reporter that they had not made use of their signalling lamp or ship’s whistle during the incident, nor were compass bearings taken of the give-way vessel during this crossing situation.
The reporter has highlighted a breach of the collision regulations and was particularly concerned that the give-way vessel took no action to keep clear and pass at a safe distance despite having agreed to do so.
CHIRP applauds the OOW in the stand-on vessel for maintaining a proper lookout and taking decisive action to avoid the risk of collision. However, CHIRP strongly discourages the use of VHF for the purposes of avoiding collision because of the risks of miscommunication or misinterpretation by either vessel which can inadvertently increase the risk of collision. Moreover, the use of VHF can tempt vessels to make ‘arrangements’ that deviate from the Collison Regulations (which provide clear requirements for the stand-on and give-way vessels).
In this case, the two power-driven vessels were in sight of one another and crossing so as to involve risk of collision. In this scenario, Rule 15 required the give-way vessel to “keep out of the way and … avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel” and Rule 16 required the give-way vessel to “take early and substantial action to keep well clear.” They do not, however, stipulate a minimum separation distance that the give-way vessel must maintain. The rules do allow either vessel, if it is in any doubt as to the other’s intentions or actions to “indicate such doubt by giving at least five short and rapid blasts on the whistle. Such signal may be supplemented by a light signal of at least five short and rapid flashes.” The rules also allow the stand-on vessel to take action under Rule 17(a)(ii) “by her manoeuvre alone, as soon as it becomes apparent to her that the vessel required to keep out of the way is not taking appropriate action in compliance with these Rules.”
The reporter stated that the OOW on the give-way vessel appeared not to have recognised that a risk of collision was developing and CHIRP wonders if fatigue was a factor in this incident.
CHIRP contacted the give-way vessel’s company which investigated the incident and determined that their vessel had not acted in accordance with the Collision Regulations (COLREGS). The company instigated a series of training briefs for the fleet which included a full review of the incident, focus on the application of the master’s standing orders, the use of effective communications in accordance with the COLREGS and summoning the master to assist when there is doubt about a navigational situation. CHIRP wishes to thank the company for their demonstration of a “just culture” approach in managing this incident report.
Human Factors relating to this report
Situational awareness – Did fatigue impair the ability of the OOW in the give-way vessel to correctly determine that a risk of collision was developing? Was the OOW comfortable with a crossing distance of only 0.3nm?
Communications – Communications given over the VHF have a degree of risk especially if the communication is not clearly understood by the vessel receiving the call. Similarly, confusion will arise if the message is not clear, concise, and positive from the person making the call. Additionally, and often overlooked, is the time that it takes to make a call – valuable reaction time is lost. CHIRP cautions against using VHF as a matter of course.
Alerting – CHIRP encourages the use of the light and sound signals as permitted in the COLREGS in preference to VHF for the purposes of avoiding collision. The use of a directional signalling light for a give-way vessel where there is doubt about the intentions of the give way vessel has high impact on the receiving vessel and cannot be confused, similarly with using a ship’s whistle.
Masters’ standing orders should make the requirement to call the master clear and unequivocal. How clear are your master’s standing orders? Does your new joining master explain the orders to all officers at the start of their command?
Culture – Was there an on board culture that to seek advice was looked upon as a sign that you could not do your job, and therefore was there was a reluctance to call the master?