Mobile Telephone Update

CHIRP has been gathering information related to the safety issues surrounding the use of mobile telephones. A recent press article in Tradewinds (16 September 2004) reported that a Romanian flagged cargo ship ran into a Greek hillside after the vessel’s captain was distracted by a call on his cell phone.

Here are some of the contributions CHIRP has received:

“Interference of mobile telephones with ship conning or manoeuvring has been observed repeatedly. This interference was not of the technical kind like affecting electronic equipment but by demanding the attention of bridge personnel at the most inappropriate moments.

Contrary to popular belief, the bridge team on coasters approaching their berth consists of the master and nobody else, unless he is lucky enough not to hold a pilotage exemption certificate. The officer-on-watch is either resting or he is on deck helping with the hawsers.

In such situations a captain is either manoeuvring his ship, or he is watching the pilot’s manoeuvring intently.

When the master’s mobile is ringing invariably he answers it, and consequently is engaged in an often important conversation with his company, agents or the like. He then either continues manoeuvring in an absent-minded way, or if he has to consult papers or a computer he asks the pilot to take over.

Of course a captain should tell a caller to let him ring back at a more suitable time. However, let’s face it, very few do.

The best way to change this state of affairs is to have a bridge team worth its name. That means two competent persons should be on the bridge when a vessel is being manoeuvred, or mobiles banned from the bridge altogether.”

“The Mobile Phone is now common place on ships, and although it is a very useful tool, an unacceptable culture breeds.

On board my vessel, a Diving Support Vessel operating in the North Sea, we implement various rules.

It is a Company Rule that mobile phones are not used when we are on DP. This is because there are reports that the signal interferes with GPS signals.

I have witnessed this once with an analogue phone, and it was just the one person’s phone, other phones didn’t have any effect.

We have tried extensive tests on here, with digital phones and have had no adverse effect on navigation equipment.

We also have a policy on here, of no use of Mobile Phones on the Main deck, this was enforced when it became noticeable that people using phones, have a tendency to just wander up and down. These people were oblivious to the local hazards, and crane operations taking place above them.

Mobile Phones on the Bridge are a distraction. Not too long ago, calls to the ship were kept to a minimum, as you would need to call through a Coast Radio Station. But now the mobile makes you much more accessible, and every Tom, Dick and Harry is phoning for an update of ETA’s from Berthing Master’s, crew joining, or chandlers telling you they can’t get red serviettes, will green ones do. I never knew any Master putting a link call in or answering one, whilst on a pilotage, due to the concentration required.

I have answered a call on pilotage myself, but more often or not they are switched off, as well as the KU band phone that is on the Bridge, as my bridge team are kept busy and alert, and do not want phones ringing out.”

“On the offshore vessel I command it has been known for some three to four years that mobile phones set off the smoke detectors and activate the fire alarms.
When making or receiving calls the crew have learned not to stand too close!”

CHIRP has already forwarded earlier reports to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and plans to make another submission in due course. Have you had a close call while using a mobile telephone? Tell CHIRP in confidence.