In poor visibility we detected a vessel on radar fine on the port bow. The plot indicated he was passing clear down the port side; I was unhappy with the CPA and asked the watch officer to alter to stbd. As we started to swing, the watch officer observed the other ship at about 2 miles altering to port which would have put us in a close quarters situation or worse. We immediately went hard a port and passed down the stbd side of the other ship and close enough to read her name despite the poor visibility. When I called the other vessel to ask why she had altered to port, the reply was “We agreed to pass green to green”. I don’t know to whom he spoke, but it definitely was not my ship. In this case the situation was salvaged by the alertness of the watch officer – proving that thankfully, not all youngsters lack the requisite qualities.
There are a number of aspects of this report which the Maritime Advisory Board found of interest:
- Often in these circumstances the other vessel detects the initial alteration and reverses its own initial alteration, resulting in a collision. This was a very lucky escape. It is possible that maintaining the starboard alteration and/or reducing speed may have been a better option.
- The issue of passing distances also features in this report. The Board is concerned that vessels appear to continue to use clear visibility values in restricted visibility situations. A vessel’s optimum sea room must be adjusted in accordance with the prevailing circumstances and conditions. As an example, in open water restricted visibility situations there is nothing to prevent vessels pushing out the boundaries adopted in clear visibility to give additional margins of safety. In more confined waters options such as speed reduction may have the same effect.
- VHF has been used to try and negotiate a deviation from the Rules and a misidentification has occurred. The Board emphasises its previous advice that compliance with the Rules is sufficient in almost all circumstances and VHF conversations should be avoided.
- If VHF conversations are considered necessary then they should be used to confirm compliance with the Rules and not negotiate a deviation. Steps should be taken to confirm the identity of the other vessel beyond doubt.
- The MAIB investigation into the collision between the “Lykes Voyager” and “Washington Senator” (downloadable from their web-site) illustrates very well the consequences of not following established best practice.