Whilst routinely navigating the westbound lane of Terschelling-German Bight T.S.S. a number of fishing vessels were noted crossing our vessel from a general relative direction of port to starboard.
Initially, the vessel I wish to report was observed in a position on my starboard quarter proceeding along the German Bight –Terschelling T.S.S. and keeping to the North of the Westbound Lane. She was faster than all other vessels in the area and at first was seen to be overtaking all other vessels, leaving them to her port side, a practice that I deemed eminently satisfactory given her relative speed and the prevailing weather conditions.
Subsequently, it was noted that one fishing vessel, apparently crossing from our port to starboard, would cause our vessel some embarrassment; and as at that time we were engaged in overtaking a car carrier, I elected to contact the car carrier, to make him aware of our intentions regarding the (unknown) fishing vessel.
Whilst I was in the process of contacting the car carrier via V.H.F., we noticed that the fishing vessel had carried out an extraordinary manoeuvre and had altered to attempt to pass between the car carrier and ourselves. Our vessel was in hand steering and we immediately altered our course to starboard and the car carrier altered her course to port both manoeuvres being carried out in order to prevent any potential embarrassment resulting from the alteration of the fishing vessel.
Being mindful of the vessel overtaking us on our starboard side I made a visual check to ensure that our large alteration of course to starboard would not impede his progress. At this time I observed that the she had also made a substantial alteration of course and had altered to port and was now directly astern of us and would soon be on our port side.
The overtaking vessel initially took up a position abaft our port beam and having resumed his course was now overtaking our vessel on our port hand. It was about this time that I noted that her distance off us was decreasing. At first we put this down to the presence of fishing vessels in the area, however, when she continued to close to my port hand, I became increasingly alarmed.
I opted to make a verbal contact with the overtaking vessel in order to alert her of our perceptions; the following conversation took place via VHF, channels 16 thence 77.
The conversation was not recorded on board our vessel and so is “ad hoc” rather than verbatim:
Having initially identified the vessel the following conversation took place at about 12:25:
“Me: Sir, you are overtaking my vessel at a course and distance that I consider to be unsatisfactory.
Overtaking Vessel: So, you will alter your course?
Me: Sir, you are crossing my vessel from port to starboard, you are overtaking me and in all aspects you are the give way vessel and I require you to alter your course to port.
Overtaking Vessel: Yes, I will alter my course to port at 12:45
Me: Sir, in 8 minutes, we will have a C.P.A. of 2 cables and I consider that to be unacceptable, please alter your course to port now.
Overtaking Vessel: O.K. O.K.”
The overtaking vessel nevertheless maintained her course and speed.
I altered my course substantially to starboard in order to avoid a potential collision, the overtaking vessel: maintained her course and speed and made no subsequent contact with our vessel.
At precisely 12:45 hours local, it was noted on board our vessel that the overtaking vessel, having apparently arrived at her designated predetermined a/c position, duly altered course.
The report was forwarded to the operator of the overtaking vessel and the Maritime Advisory Board is grateful for their extensive investigation into the incident. A considerable amount of information was provided, but the following extracts are considered particularly relevant, with Vessel “A” being the overtaken and reporting vessel in the following extracts:
“We where 5 ships sailing in that lane, us 20,5kn. Vessel A 18kn. Vessel B and Vessel C both 12,5kn and vessel D 10kn. Heading in that lane is 251degree, Vessel A’s heading was 257degree therefore she was moving towards the northern side of the lane. We used the AIS to see Vessel A’s Destination, ETA & Draught. There was no information available, so we assumed that Vessel A was going to continue straight ahead. We on the other hand were going to turn port in less than 40 minutes, and therefore we turned port after we had overtaken the slow moving ships and still 1,3Nm aft of Vessel A. After reviewing the recording we did not come closer then 0,4Nm to Vessel A and that was on almost parallel courses. Our vessel was at the time of overtaking Vessel A on the southern side of the lane, with the distance to the border less then 0,6Nm.”
“Vessel A observed on my port bow while navigating north of the westbound lane of Terschelling-German Bight T.S.S. since she was making speed of about 20.6 Kts and our vessel was making 20.9 kts at the time of transit….”
Company Comment: Following the review onboard by the Master and the Fleet Safety Specialist we are satisfied that the actions taken by our vessel were satisfactory in the circumstances and did not depart from the practice of good seamanship.
The Maritime Advisory Board accepts the benefit of hindsight, but believes the following additional points, based on the facts provided, may be worth noting:
- The speed of the overtaken vessel was 20.6 kts (18 kts being incorrect) and therefore the speed differential was only 0.3 kts. This meant the overtaking manoeuvre would take place over a considerable period of time.
- There was some doubt as to whether the vessel being overtaken was going to maintain her course or make a turn to port into the south-west lane of the TSS.
- In these circumstances; with a small speed differential and doubt as to the intentions of the vessel being overtaken i.e. she may have intended to turn to port, the decision to overtake on the port side may not have been the best option.
- A speed reduction for a relatively short period would have resolved the doubt as to the intentions of the vessel being overtaken on completion of the westbound leg and, if subsequently required, to plan the overtaking manoeuvre. This option does not appear to have been considered in the analysis provided.
- It is entirely possible that the passing distance of 0.4’ was only achieved because of the overtaken vessel’s alteration of course to starboard.
- VHF appears to have been used extensively and this may have had a negative impact on the assessment of the situation.
There is a possibility the OOW on the overtaking vessel was more focussed on making the next waypoint than monitoring the traffic situation.