Whilst sailing from a port in adverse weather conditions, a tanker in ballast collided with a channel buoy. The pilot had departed from the bridge beforehand to facilitate an early disembarkation because of the bad weather.
What the Reporter told us:
Upon completion of cargo discharge, a pre-departure bridge team meeting was held, and navigation equipment tested. The Master/Pilot exchange was carried out in line with company standing instructions.
The vessel departed the berth and proceeded to sea. Bridge manning consisted of two pilots, the Master, Chief Officer, OOW and the helmsman. The pilotage from the berth to the fairway buoy was just over three hours.
The channel at the seaward end is nominally 250m wide with a heading of 180°. Pairs of buoys are spaced every mile with a further mile from the final pair (No 1 buoys) to the Fairway buoy.
As soon as the vessel passed No.2 buoys the pilot informed the bridge that he would get off after the first set of buoys and before reaching the fairway buoy. The weather at the time was wind easterly 30-35kts gusting 50kts and the swell was reported as 2-3m. The pilot advised the vessel to make a course of 221° after passing No.1 buoys in order to provide a good lee for a safe pilot disembarkation.
The OOW left the bridge in order to assist the pilot, while the Master and Chief Officer remained monitoring the vessel’s movement in the channel. No one replaced the OOW.
Once the pilot had left the wheelhouse, the bridge team realized that the vessel was drifting and getting closer to buoy No. 1 to starboard. To counter the drift, the helmsman was ordered to alter the wheel hard to port, but as the vessel started developing port swing the wheel was then ordered hard over to starboard to counter the swing and maintain a course parallel to the buoy.
Our vessel slowly responded and swung to starboard.– The bow passed clear of the buoy but No.1 buoy struck our starboard side, where it fouled and was dragged along at the ship’s side for 2.5 miles before coming free.
It should be noted that:
- vessel hit the buoy whilst pilot was still on board but not on the bridge.
- after hitting the buoy, the pilot did not return to the bridge.
- the pilot was disembarking early because of the weather conditions.
- planned speed for the pilot transfer was 6.5kts.
- vessel was able to proceed on passage without delay. A subsequent in-water survey found only minor propeller damage which did not affect the vessel’s operational capability
- the pilot should hand over the con in a safe navigational position with ample time for the next manoeuvre.
- the Bridge Team should intervene immediately when the pilot’s instructions may place the vessel in a hazardous
- any risk assessment should take into consideration the effect of current and wind as well as the time required to conduct the task.
- cross verification of buoys and other navigational marks with radar should be carried out to ascertain the present position and leeway.
The Maritime Advisory Board discussed this report extensively. There are many lessons to be learnt from this incident with some of the comments below being rhetorical questions where specific answers were not available:
- did the vessel sail in marginal conditions, in which case was the early departure of the pilot planned at the master / pilot exchange before sailing or had the weather deteriorated during the lengthy pilotage resulting in a deviation from the pilot’s standard operating procedures? If it was the latter, a revised risk assessment should have been carried out. The pilot has a responsibility to hand over the conning of the vessel safely having due regard to the prevailing conditions.
- there were many references to the bridge team and the pre-sailing bridge team meeting, which is good, but the master is part of the bridge team and whilst the master is on the bridge it should be he who challenged the pilot if there were any concerns about the prudence of the pilot getting off early.
- it is presumed that all members of the crew were suitably rested and although no reference to fatigue was mentioned in the report, the MAB noted that during cargo operations on tankers the chief officer tends to work extended hours and might be more fatigued and therefore less alert than normal.
- there appears to be a loss of situational awareness by the bridge team when both the pilot and the OOW left the bridge at the same time. The master needed to ensure that someone was navigating at all times and that there was continuity even when members of the bridge team left the bridge. Additionally, the act of reducing speed from full manoeuvring to 6.5kts for the pilot’s disembarkation would have affected the vessels leeway and reduced the vessel’s responsiveness to the helm. Both of these facts appear to have been overlooked by the remaining members of the bridge team.
Regardless of the prevailing conditions and for the sake of a mile, was it necessary or prudent for the pilot to leave the bridge at this stage to facilitate an early departure? Hopefully this was a lesson learned by the pilotage authority.