My vessel, a large tanker, was making its approach towards the Traffic Separation Scheme for an entry to Singapore Straits from the east.
At the time of the incident we were steering a course of 245 degrees True with a speed of 12 knots. The engine was on stand-by and the telegraph set to manoeuvring on the telegraph.
As we were approaching the Eastern Banks the traffic was exiting the TSS and steering a northerly course for ports in the Taiwan/Japan range. As is common the crossing traffic was heavy. Two container vessels were crossing ahead with CPA’s of 1 to 2 cables. Own ship a/c to starboard to exhibit a broader red and encourage vessels to a/c to starboard and transit my stern. When it became apparent that they were not going to give way and were in fact increasing speed to enable a bow crossing my speed was slackened in order to increase bow crossing range. My engine was eventually stopped and speed reduced down to 6 knots. Both container vessels crossed ahead in broad daylight 4 cables. Both were clearly in violation of Rules 15 and 16. No attempt was made for a safer passing distance. There was no apparent reason for not a/c to starboard and passing round my stern. Both vessels were very close together and crossed the bow at the same time.
Could this have been the result of bravado, racing each other or just plain bad seamanship?
This type of near miss is becoming increasingly more common.
We sent a disidentified copy of the report to the managers of both the container ships.
The reply from the manager of the first ship, the faster of the two container vessels, included a full statement from the Officer of the Watch (the Captain having left the bridge when the ship had cleared the Singapore Strait). In summary, this statement was that the OOW had been closely monitoring the other container ship that he had passed and the tanker on his starboard bow. The OOW considered that he was passing safely ahead of the latter vessel. He added that the tanker gave no indication of concern by sound signal or light or VHF.
The reply from the manager of the second container vessel was that the master was emphatic that his vessel had not been in a close quarters situation with a tanker.
Whilst this may be inconclusive as regards to the actual events, we believe that the tanker acted correctly in reporting the incident to CHIRP and that the managers of both container ships acted responsibly in following it up.
It appears that the watch-keepers on the container ships may have had a different perception of the risk than that of the Master of the tanker. The report illustrates the situation described in the Editorial to this issue of Maritime FEEDBACK where the stand-on vessel (in this case the tanker) is less manoeuvrable than the give-way vessel (s) (the container vessels).
We note that the tanker altered course to starboard to encourage the other vessels to transit her stern. Whilst we recognise the concern that was being felt on the bridge of the tanker at the developing close quarters situation, CHIRP does not endorse this action as described as it does not appear to be in compliance with Rule 17 (a) (i) (“Where one of two vessels is to keep out of the way the other shall keep her course and speed.). It is of course a matter for judgement by the stand-on vessel as to when an alteration of course and/or reduction of speed may be appropriate under Rule 17 (a) (ii) (The stand-on vessel may however take action to avoid collision by her manoeuvre alone, as soon as it becomes apparent that the vessel required to keep out of the way is not taking appropriate action in compliance with these Rules.)
Whilst it is not possible to reconstruct the situation exactly, it remains questionable whether the watch-keeper(s) on one or both of the container ships had properly assessed the risk and considered their obligation to take early and substantial action to keep clear of the tanker as per Rule 16, as quoted in the Editorial to this issue.
Both container ships commented on the absence of VHF communication from the tanker. However CHIRP advises great caution in the use of VHF for collision avoidance.
We do draw attention to Rule 34(d):
“When vessels in sight of one another are approaching each other and from any cause either vessel fails to understand the intentions or actions of the other, or is in doubt whether sufficient action is being taken by the other to avoid collision, the vessel in doubt shall immediately 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.”
So if you are the stand-on vessel are in doubt as to the intentions of the other vessel, put yourself in full compliance with the Rules by using the whistle and light.