Collision with Fishing Vessel

CHIRP Comment:

Here is another company investigation report of a high standard; whilst the format is slightly different, the results are similar in effect.

Report Text:

At 04:59 a loaded merchant vessel collided with a wooden fishing vessel of less than 20m in international waters. The fishing vessel sustained extensive damage above the waterline but safely made port under her own power. The fishing vessel’s crew suffered minor injuries and the merchant vessel sustained minor scuffing damage.

The 04-08 morning bridge watch consisted of an experienced Officer of the Watch (OOW) and a JOS (Junior Ordinary Seaman) lookout. At the time of the collision it was dark, the visibility was good (>8nm), the wind was light, the sea state was calm and the traffic density was light. The vessel was approaching a waypoint to alter course from 295° G to 270°G. A red light was reported by the lookout fine to port at 04:41 and again reported to port at 04:56 but was assumed by the OOW to be a target further away (>9 nm).

The OOW was monitoring the 3cm radar and reports that no target was observed on this unit. The Simplified Voyage Data Recorder (SVDR) shows that the target was picked up quite clearly by the 10cm radar. As the vessel approached the new course of 270°G a single red light and corresponding silhouette was observed directly ahead before being lost from view beneath the bow. The collision occurred at 04:59 when a light bang was reported coming from forward. On moving to the starboard side of the bridge the OOW and the lookout observed a fishing vessel was passing down the starboard side. The Master was immediately informed.

The vessel reduced to manoeuvring revolutions and turned around to assist the fishing vessel. The vessel’s rescue boat and lifesaving appliances were prepared. The nearest coast radio station and coastguard were informed. The vessel attempted to make radio contact with the fishing vessel but this was not successful, possibly due to the damage sustained during the collision. The Operators 24hr duty phone was called and operator advised of the situation. Damage to the vessel was assessed and found to be minimal. The vessel stood by until a coastguard vessel rendezvoused with the fishing vessel to escort her into port. Upon instruction from the local authorities the vessel continued on her voyage. After the incident the OOW concerned was removed from watch keeping duties and was repatriated at the next opportunity.

Investigation by the Operator

An investigation team boarded the vessel at the earliest opportunity. Statements were taken and evidence removed from the vessel, included the SVDR data. The OOW concerned attended the operator’s office for a further interview. Following a review of the investigation report, the VDR data and the interview with the OOW, the following conclusions were made:-

  • The lights that were seen were not positively verified against a radar target,
  • A visual lookout was maintained and all lights were observed, however the lights of the fishing vessel were incorrectly identified,
  • Radar observation was undertaken only on the 3cm radar,
  • It is probable that the 3 cm radar was not tuned to provide optimum performance. (There is no evidence to prove this other than the fact that the fishing vessel target was apparently not detected on this radar),
  • The 3cm and 10cm radars were on different ranges but the 3cm was incorrectly set to the longer range (12nm) and the 10 cm was set to the shorter range (6nm),

NOTE: 10 cm (S band) radar provide better detection at longer range and 3cm (X band) radar provides better definition at smaller ranges.

  • The alteration of course at the waypoint was made using the autopilot in small increments that would not be readily apparent to another vessel (The fishing vessel) observing visually or by radar,
  • The OOW did not advise the lookout of the alteration of course.

With respect to the conduct of the OOW, the investigation team concluded that:

  • There had been no knowingly breached procedure. While the performance of lookout could have been better by using more of the tools available to him, the OOW and the lookout had observed the fishing vessel lights and had been performing lookout duties,
  • The incident occurred due to an error in judgment by the OOW rather than a reckless violation of procedure or by negligence.

Lessons Learnt /Key Messages

  • Observed targets and lights should be positively identified and compared with radar targets to avoid making assumptions on the basis of scanty information.
  • All available means shall be used to observe and identify hazards to navigation including sight, hearing, visual bearings, AIS and radar (including auto acquisition tools such as guard rings when appropriate).
  • Radar range scale and tuning (gain, sea clutter, rain clutter) should be regularly adjusted throughout the watch in order to increase the probability of detection of weak radar targets.
  • Emphasis should be placed upon creating a strong relationship between OOW and lookout that includes good communications (discussions of the traffic & navigational situation) and positive reporting (confirmation of receipt of report).
  • The lookout should be encouraged to make use of navigational aids such as radar to increase their situational awareness.

Close Out Action Taken by the Operator / Preventative Action

  • The OOW will be issued with a written formal warning.
  • The OOW will be targeted for additional training at a Bridge Team Management (CRM) course prior to his next appointment.
  • The OOW will undertake a management course at the next convenient opportunity to improve his leadership skills and integrated team working.
  • Details of the incident will be promulgated to the fleet, highlighting the mistakes made and the best practices that should be adhered to.
  • Identified failures in best practice will be raised with the institutions that conduct the company bridge team management (CRM) courses.
  • Details of the incident will be forwarded to the Confidential Hazardous Incident Reporting Programme (CHIRP) and to the Nautical Institute’s Marine Accident Reporting Scheme (MARS) to promulgate the learning throughout the industry.

CHIRP Comment:

The Maritime Advisory Board wishes to draw attention to and commend two aspects of this report in addition to its general high standard; firstly the fact the merchant ship stood by ready to render assistance after the collision, an action reportedly often not taken, and secondly, the company’s commitment to sharing the information as widely as possible.  CHIRP is more than pleased to play its part in this.