Defects, errors and anomalies with equipment do occur, but once they are identified they need to be addressed and resolved in a timely fashion.
What the reporter told us:
The vessel’s ECDIS displayed an incorrect position – the vessel was displayed halfway over the wharf when alongside. In addition, the vessel’s AIS had significantly incorrect vessel dimensions programmed into it. The AIS is linked to and feeds the pilot’s portable piloting unit (PPU) through the ‘pilot plug’. Thus, errors were introduced into the PPU.
The last time the reporter piloted this vessel the same errors were noted, so the captain was requested to check and correct the errors. During this port call the master advised that they had tried to correct the errors but had no success. This is a significant concern and port state control have been requested to attend the vessel.
Three months ago on the vessel’s previous visit, the same errors had been observed, at which time the reporter had discussed the issue of antenna offset settings with the captain who had assured the reporter that the issues would be addressed. However, on this port call the master stated they had attempted to adjust this, but the settings kept reverting back to zero. This could mean that the ship had adjusted the GPS position offset, not the antenna offset, or they might have adjusted the antenna position offset but the internal battery could be dead, leading to a loss of the settings and the unit defaulting to zero offsets.
The AIS is another matter. Whilst it would also be affected by the incorrect antenna offset, the vessel’s dimensions were incorrectly programmed into the AIS unit. It was thought that this data was not programmable by the vessel but would require the attendance of a service technician. This requirement had been discussed with the captain on the previous visit, three months earlier.
This known issue has not been resolved to date.
Pilots use all navigational aids available, our own and the vessel’s, but having incorrect data coming through the electronic navigation aids is potentially a high safety risk.
A separate report about this event was sent to the port state authorities requesting them to attend to try to get corrective action taken.
We did attempt to contact the DPA to bring this report to their attention but the ISM managers declined to engage with CHIRP. The MAB recommended contacting the vessel’s flag state regarding this report, which was duly done. The flag state positively engaged with CHIRP and details of the report were passed to the flag.
Issues like these are reportable to Port State Control and appropriate Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) stations so that vessels can be entered onto databases for monitoring, and ship inspections can be arranged.
This report does raise some general questions. CHIRP is aware that there are commercially available PPUs with independent AIS capability that can be carried on board by the pilot. These do away with the need for a data feed interface from ships’ systems.
AIS is covered by SOLAS and, whilst not a GMDSS requirement, it has become a de facto part of a vessel’s GMDSS equipment with the advent and acceptance of the AIS SART from 2010. On both counts the AIS equipment on board a vessel is required to be working and transmitting correct data. Indeed, the USCG highlighted the need for correct AIS data in a recent safety bulletin (04-20) relating to an incident where a causal factor in a number of fatalities was incorrect information entered into the vessels’ AIS. In this case, the fact that the vessel was sailing with a known defect for at least three months and had been advised to call a service technician, but had not done so, is completely unacceptable. Human factors here include culture, awareness of risk, and communications, both on board and ashore.
There is a limit to what a ship at sea can achieve, but advising management about issues is an obvious step. Once management have been advised about a known error in a critical piece of onboard equipment, the onus is on the management to ensure the issue is resolved because failure to do so could, in the event of an accident, be considered to render the vessel unseaworthy with the potential to negate a vessel’s insurance.