I am saddened to see that it appears to be only those who sail in the more popular parts of the seas surrounding our coastline who bother to take the time to report poorly marked fishing gear. I also note that reports feature “buoys” encountered in daylight! Yes I do know that it is more difficult in the dark, but it is also more of a problem in the dark as well…. On 21st November (when Johnny and the boys were busy wresting the rugby world cup from the Aussies) my friend and I sailed from AAA at midnight to deliver my boat to BBB prior to being sold.
It was a dark night with a clear atmosphere and we followed the coastline for the entire 40 miles. All went well until the 0400 watch change when I rose to find my watchman standing like a guardsman at the stern with a grip of steel on the tiller. He told me he had just missed a five gallon drum making approximately four knots into the tide! Couple this with our six knots through the water and you have a converging speed of ten knots which is very fast in the pitch dark. If it had not been for the loom from the land lights of CCC he would not have had time to take avoiding action. The drum was not drifting nor was it marking any crab pots, as the potting season was long passed ending for the year. We can only assume that it was marking an underwater obstruction or a diver’s find!
What is the solution to this nightmare situation, apart from slowing to a standstill or waiting till daylight and the attendant weather change?
Each Skipper needs to make a careful assessment of the planned voyage and the risks likely to be encountered. Mitigating those risks may well involve making the most of available daylight.
Within port limits reports should be sent to the Competent Harbour Authority. For the situation outside port limits, CHIRP forwarded the report to the MCA, asking them to describe in what respects they might be able to assist:
“The MCA recognises the difficulties that vessels, particularly smaller yachts and pleasure vessels, may encounter with unmarked gear or floating, semi submerged objects. The MCA has issued advice regarding the Marking of Fishing Gear to Fishermen and the same advice is available to other boat owners. The MCA has also issued advice regarding passage planning for Pleasure Craft (SOLAS V for Pleasure Craft), and advice on what action should be taken if they encounter an object which may be considered to be a hazard to navigation. Both advice leaflets are available form the MCA upon request.
The MCA is aware that floating debris at sea can range between large objects e.g. containers, logs, derelict craft, etc to smaller objects e.g. crates, boxes, branches, leisure items (lilos), etc. More alarmingly, some of these objects can be semi-submerged e.g. containers and nets. Other obstructions can consist of poorly or unmarked devices tethered to submerged objects.
MCA (HM Coastguard) does, from time to time, receive reports of the more dangerous debris eg containers, large logs, derelict craft and will make a radio broadcast to shipping of the type and position and then include it in their routine Maritime Safety Information broadcasts usually as a formal WZ Navigation Warning (it will have been reported to the Hydrographer to achieve this).
MCA does not have a responsibility or duty to collect or remove debris from the sea unless it is a danger to the environment e.g. drums of chemicals, containers known to contain chemicals or other noxious substances, etc. However, if the objects present a specific danger to navigation e.g. semi-submerged containers in restricted waters, large diameter rope, etc. then it may use its own assets e.g. MCA Emergency Towing Vessels to recover such objects to a place of safety.” The action taken by the MCA is based on risk on a case by case basis.”