Erratic encounter

Report Text:

Interestingly enough, the incident I would like to promulgate to your readers is nearly identical to that shown in diagram form on the front page of your Issue no. 14. vis. “near Collision-Sister Ships.”

Editor’s note: The reporter goes on to describe how his vessel “A”, a large cargo vessel, was passing an island in daylight in good weather. Vessel “B” was apparently bound for a harbour xxxxx on that island.

The other vessel began to slowly wander across the bows of own vessel. Right ahead, back to stbd, ahead again, a bit to port etc. Over about 1 hour, the other vessel eventually settled up on a parallel course about 4 points on my STARBOARD bow. Even my lookout commented “What on earth is this bloke up to?”

All was revealed after about 30 minutes. Other vessel made a bold alteration of course to PORT this time, and settled up on a perfect 0.0′ C.P.A., collision course, (I suppose he presumed he was now the stand-on vessel), distance about 3.5 miles.

It became awkward as I had fishing vessels to port. Against my better judgement I called him on VHF. He answered immediately, but all he would say was, “I maintain my course and speed to harbour xxxxx.” Over and over again.

He refused to budge, and I honestly believe collision was imminent without drastic action on my part. When the distance had reduced to 0.9 NM and he was still making no attempt to avoid collision I rang slow ahead, put my man on the wheel, and took a round turn out to port. Own ship turns on a sixpence, so I was able to turn inside the fishing vessels to port. They were more than a little perturbed however, and my mouth was quite dry. It had been too close to disaster.

When we were both passed and clear I again called the Chief Officer of the other vessel on VHF and told him that he had not only placed both ships in danger, but had demonstrated careless navigation and sloppy seamanship. His answer? “I maintain my course and speed to harbour xxxxx.”


CHIRP Comment:

The reporter clearly felt annoyed at what he perceived as “careless navigation and sloppy seamanship” by ship B in the hours prior to the close quarters situation. It is a feature of maritime life that the actions of another vessel can sometimes be unexpected. For any of us involved in such a situation, it is useful with the benefit of hindsight to reflect on how this can be avoided on future occasions.

In respect of the incident itself, could action have been taken earlier to avoid the close quarters situation? The manoeuvring of ship B may not have been in accordance with good practice, but nevertheless, at the point at which  it altered course to port across the course of ship A when 3.5 miles away, would it not have been appropriate for ship A, as by then the give-way vessel, to have altered course to starboard or  to have slowed down?

On a more general note, the report raises a number of issues regarding bridge management that are worthy of consideration if you are a Captain or expect to be so in the future.  For example:

  1. What guidance would you give in your standing orders on when you expect to be called?
  2. Are your officers clear as to your requirements for being alerted if there is a potential close quarters situation with sea-room restricted, for example by fishing vessels?
  3. How would you engender an environment on board in which the advice from the senior officers is perceived as constructive guidance rather than as a “bludgeoning?”