Terrible VHF Communication

CHIRP has received 2 reports relating to action taken and confusion as a result of exchange of information via VHF.

Report 1 Text:

Vessel A: “Vessel B” what is it we need to do to go ahead?
Vessel B: Yes I am already altering my course to Port
Vessel A: Yes you are still altering your course to Starboard
Vessel B: OK, OK you cross to Starboard you will pass Starboard to Starboard
Vessel A: You want us to pass you will pass Starboard to Starboard?
Vessel B: Yes sir, I pass Starboard to Starboard
Vessel A: You had better stop altering your course to Starboard because I am altering my course to Port and you are altering your course to Starboard, so alter your course to Port
Vessel B: Starboard to Starboard you also alter course to Port Side
Vessel A: Yes I am altering my course to Portside but you are altering your to Starboard you alter your course to Port also.
Vessel B: Yeh, Yeh you alter course to Portside – OK?
Vessel A: Yes, you also alter course to Port and we will be passing Starboard-to-Starboard

CHIRP contacted the ship managers of Vessel ‘A’, they then conducted a near miss review and shared the following information.
The vessel was on a laden voyage from Port Hedland to China and was passing the Lombok straits steering a course of 346 with a speed of around 11 knots. The vessel then sighted an unknown vessel a little on her starboard bow on a nearly reciprocal bearing. VHF communication was initiated by the other vessel, to which our own vessel responded and agreed to pass starboard to starboard. However, erratic and confusing actions were taken by the vessel causing a near miss situation.

Investigation: Cause analysis:
• Use of VHF in collision avoidance, miscommunication,
• Failure to call the Master as specified in company procedures & master’s standing orders.

Lessons learnt/preventive actions taken:
• Use of VHF for collision avoidance must be avoided in normal circumstances. The master briefed the bridge team on board and all the officers made aware of the hazards;
• Fleet circular was issued to alert the masters. Also all vessels to watch navigational occurrences closely and report near misses as observed. M-Notice (MGN) 324 was sent to the fleet for caution & guidance;
• Master was not called as per standing orders. The watch keeping officers were briefed andthe need was emphasised to call master on any such situations of doubt, and
• Training needs identified. Company training centre has taken measures to include this incident in the training and briefing modules.

Report 2 Text:

A VHF conversation between two ships was overheard by the reporter, the officer of the watch (OOW) of a ferry asked a bulk carrier OOW and requested to pass ‘Green to Green’, and this was agreed. About one minute later the ferry made a broad alteration to starboard and passed 1.5nm ahead of the bulk carrier. Both vessels appeared to be at full speed (estimated to be 15 knots) this made for a close crossing. There was no communication to the bulk carrier so the bulk carrier called the ferry, only getting a reply on the second call. They moved to a working channel then the ferry’s OOW said they wanted to go red to red. No apology or explanation given.

CHIRP Comment

The reciprocal courses (NW and SE) strongly suggests a risk of collision existed but this was not stated. Therefore, provided a risk of collision has been determined and confirmed, agreement to go ‘Green-to-Green” is contrary to the COLREGS Rule 14. This is important because if the vessels would pass clear, green-to-green is acceptable. Crossing the bow of another vessel to slavishly adhere to a notion that the two may only pass red to red, introduces additional risk by creating the crossing situation of Rule 15 and is not what the COLREGS require. The stand on vessel may also need to make allowance for any vessel constrained by its draught.

The practice of using VHF to renegotiate the application of the COLREGS is inadvisable and cannot be supported. The Nautical Institute stated such activity is likely to distract the OOW from taking the necessary action in an early manner as prescribed by the COLREGS.

CHIRP recalls a report of a collision between two ships in a Force 10 storm. A review of both Bridge VDR conversations reinforced by the MRCC VHF record revealed the message heard on one ship excluded a key word in the VHF transmission, which meant a contrary instruction was heard to the action being taken, and this was a cause of the collision. The static electricity interference created by lightning had interfered with the VHF conversation.