Navigational Near Miss

Report Text:

Our Harbour Authority operates a port VTS Information Service.  The VTS also monitors vessels transiting the adjacent sea area, although there is no direct responsibility for this.

On the particular day, the duty VTS Operator was alerted to a small cargo vessel entering a safety zone around an outlying island.  The VTS Operator called on VHF channel 16 to alert the vessel it was standing into danger.  After the 3rd call to the vessel a response was received indicating the ship was hard to port.

The vessel proceeded to clear the area without incident. The Harbour Authority forwarded details of the incident to the local Coastguard office.

(Note: the reporter attached a snap-shot image from the VTS equipment showing the track of the vessel entering the safety zone and skirting the island.)

CHIRP Comment:

We forwarded the report to the manager of the ship. He subsequently sent us the response of the Master which in summary was that

  • The area is well known to him. He was on the bridge for the passage of the area.
  • There was a strong following current and a Force 6 following wind. The visibility was good.
  • The vessel was being set south by the tide towards the island. The master was however expecting that when the ship got closer to the island there would be a counter current to the North.
  • The Master stated that “The depth at location is very deep which makes it no risk. On the radar I circled a cpa to the safety zone of 0.5 nm. It’s my opinion that I haven’t been within that distance. I already had corrected the course twice with 5 degrees to the North. I don’t know if this could be tracked ashore. There was a vessel ahead on a reciprocal course. This is why I always keep as close to the starboard outer limit of the fairway in order to ensure there is no doubt about my intentions.”

CHIRP appreciates the manager’s action in following this up with Master.  We would however comment that, from the track of the vessel shown on the VTS, it is appropriate to consider this as a navigational near-miss with significant risk, typical perhaps of many near-misses that go unreported.  These may well involve mariners who are properly qualified, conscientious and take pride in their navigation skills.

So what can a ship manager do to reduce the risk that his ship will be involved in a navigational incident?  Some large companies carry out navigation audits in which a senior Master or navigator carries out trips on vessels to monitor the navigational practices and advise on areas for improvement.  The concept is the same as that for auditing any critical area of a company’s activities, whether technical or financial.

In a small company, it may not be feasible to have specialist navigation auditors. However, a superintendent during a visit to a vessel in port can obtain a level of assurance, for example:

  • By looking at the vessel’s passage plan for the previous voyage and discussing it with the Master.
  • By discussing with the Master and navigation officers how they apply parallel-indexing
  • By checking that navigation equipment is working and charts are corrected up to date.

And if you are a yachtsman, does any of this apply to you?  During your next voyage, ask yourself whether you are applying all the proper navigational practices.  Or better still, ask a qualified person to give you a critique.