A 12m ketch on a night passage in the Mediterranean had to take evasive action to avoid collision with a 72m luxury motor yacht which failed to comply with the requirements of Rule 15.
What the reporter told us:
It was a clear night with good visibility, and we were approaching the outer reaches of our destination port, when we noticed a power-driven vessel approaching from our port side. We observed it visually and on our AIS unit (Note: the ketch’s AIS was a receive only unit, not a transponder). We were making 5.8 knots under power and the approaching vessel was making 13 knots. The AIS showed a CPA of around 100m so we closely monitored the approaching vessel expecting it to alter course to starboard and pass astern of us. Our navigation lights were on and bright but the approaching vessel closed without altering course, so we turned on our deck lights to further illuminate our ketch and reduced speed to 2 knots. As the approaching vessel remained on what appeared to be a collision course, I altered course hard to starboard and eventually completed a full 360° round turn. Once the other vessel had passed, I resumed my original course. I tried calling the other vessel on VHF Channel 16 to alert her to the near miss, but there was no reply. I then took a screen shot of the AIS.
Screen shot of AIS display after the round turn to starboard
A few minutes after this, the other vessel turned hard to port to enter the ports’ inbound channel so there was clearly someone on the bridge. I have no doubt that if I hadn’t altered course so dramatically, we would have either been run down or had a very close call.
Despite clear navigation lights, (and by all accounts usually creating a good radar echo), it appeared we were invisible, perhaps because of our lack of an AIS transponder? I will be fitting an AIS transponder soon.
In clear visibility at night with navigation lights on, a 12m ketch is as visible as any other small craft, assuming of course that a visual lookout is being kept on the other vessel. In a modern enclosed wheelhouse full of every kind of electronic device and screen, the light pollution can be such as to render a visual lookout almost impossible unless great care is taken with dimmer settings.
The reporter did not mention if the ketch was fitted with a radar reflector but even if it was, that would only aid detection if the other ship had its radar turned on and somebody was actually monitoring the radar screens.
Potentially the only additional thing that could have been done was to flash an Aldis lamp into the wheelhouse of the approaching vessel in an attempt to attract their attention.
The reporter did exactly what he should have done by following the Collision Regulations, and the system worked. Regardless of the failure of the other vessel to comply with the regulations, the actions of the reporter ensured the safe arrival in port of both the reporter’s ketch and the other vessel despite the latter’s demonstration of poor seamanship.
At the end of the report the reporter stated that he would be fitting an AIS transponder unit which would be prudent, but even that is not infallible. On every voyage there is always a chance to encounter a rogue vessel which through poor seamanship fails to comply with the requirements of Colregs. Always hope for the best but plan for the worst.
The 72m motor yacht safely at anchor the following day
This report is an example of both bad and good application of Colregs. Taking into account that AIS is not intended for collision avoidance, the members of the CHIRP Maritime Advisory Board (MAB) noted that there was no mention of any bearings being taken to ascertain if a risk of collision did exist, which might suggest an over-reliance being placed upon the AIS. They also noted that when undertaking night voyages, an Aldis lamp or similar high intensity signalling light is a prudent addition to any craft’s equipment inventory.
It was also noted that the visibility of navigation lights can be adversely affected by the movement of a small vessel and can easily be lost in the background lights of the shore. Furthermore, there is some suggestion of “confirmation bias” on ships’ bridges so that even if a light is seen, if there is no confirmation by AIS or radar the visual sighting may be ignored or given a lower priority than a visual sighting corroborated by AIS.
That said, the reporter’s assessment of the situation and the actions that were taken to avoid a potential collision were completely correct. The MAB members were also pleased to note that VHF communication was only attempted once collision avoidance action had been taken and proven to be effective.