Distractions on the bridge will ALWAYS lead to lower situational awareness. The Nautical Institute gives this warning in its latest Mars Report in which a cargo vessel collided with a fishing vessel. At the time, the cargo vessel’s master was talking to three passengers present on the bridge.

The Nautical Institute gathers reports of maritime accidents and near-misses. It then publishes these so-called Mars Reports (anonymously) to prevent other accidents from happening. A summary of this incident:

A cargo vessel was leaving port under pilotage, in darkness but with good visibility. The bridge team comprised the pilot who had the con, the master, officer of the watch (OOW) and a helmsman. Also on the bridge were three representatives of the vessel charterer who were making an observation trip to the next port.

As the vessel exited the port, the pilot handed the conduct of the vessel to the master in preparation for disembarking. There was no discussion about traffic in the area during the handover, and the bridge team had not noticed the presence of an inbound fishing vessel some 5 nm ahead. The OOW accompanied the pilot to the main deck and observed as the pilot boarded the pilot launch.

When the OOW returned to the wheelhouse, the master was in discussion with the three passengers. The OOW then observed a small vessel fine on the port bow. Viewed through binoculars, both the port and the starboard navigation lights were visible. The OOW informed the master of the small vessel’s presence.

Also read: Loaded tanker collides with a fishing vessel in a restricted waterway and low visibility

At this point, the fishing vessel was approximately 3.5 nm away, but it was not yet showing as a target on the radars because they were still set to the 3 and 0.75 nm range scales used to exit the port. The fishing vessel had a speed over ground (SOG) of about 7.8 knots. The SOG of the outbound cargo vessel was 8.2 knots. As the cargo vessel came clear of the port channel, the master ordered the engine speed to be increased, giving a new SOG of about 11.8 knots. At this point, the vessels were about 10 minutes apart.

A few minutes later, the OOW interrupted the discussion between the master and the passengers to inform the master of the developing situation with the fishing vessel. The master acknowledged the OOW and continued the conversation with the passengers. The fishing vessel was now 1.5 nm away and on an apparent collision course, yet neither vessel had altered course.

The OOW now informed the master that the fishing vessel’s CPA would be 0.047 nm. Soon after this, he told the master that the fishing vessel’s course over ground (COG) was 230°. The master first confirmed with the helmsman that own ship’s course was 060°, then ordered the helmsman to alter course 10 degrees to starboard to avoid a collision.

Also read: Nautical Institute: ‘Confirm other vessel’s movements instead of making assumptions’

Soon after, the OOW informed the master that the bow crossing range was 0.089 nm. At this point, the master ordered hard starboard and sounded one continuous long blast on the vessel’s whistle. Within seconds the cargo vessel and the fishing vessel collided.

The fishing vessel’s bridge was manned by a lone watchkeeper who was not sufficiently familiar with the Colregs to stand a watch. He had left the bridge about one minute before the collision to wake the master, unaware that they were running into danger. As the crew and the master regained the wheelhouse of the fishing vessel, they heard the whistle of the approaching cargo vessel. The master attempted to steer to safety, but the two vessels collided shortly afterwards. Only minor injuries were sustained by the master of the fishing vessel and the vessel sustained bow damage.

Report findings

The official report found, among others, that;

  • The bridge team on board the cargo vessel, both during the pilotage and immediately after the pilotage ended, had low situational awareness of other marine traffic in the vicinity due to distractions (passengers on bridge) and the absence of long-range scanning to obtain an early warning of the risk of collision.
  • The sole watchkeeper on board the fishing vessel had low situational awareness of the risk of collision with the cargo vessel because the radar equipment was not used to plot the target’s track. Also, the watchkeeper on board the fishing vessel was not sufficiently familiar with the Colregs to undertake a sole watch.

Also read: General cargo vessel collides with fishing vessel after not acting on small CPA

Advice from The Nautical Institute

  • Distractions on the bridge will ALWAYS lead to lower situational awareness. Unnecessary personnel or passengers on the bridge, portable phones, sundry other tasks other than navigation; these will erode your safe navigation.
  • Early warning of an impending collision by radar can only be achieved by long range scanning and target acquisition.

Mars Reports

This accident was covered in the Mars Reports, originally published as Mars 202207, that are part of Report Number 352. A selection of this Report was also published in SWZ|Maritime’s March 2022 issue. The Nautical Institute compiles these reports to help prevent maritime accidents. That is why they are also published on SWZ|Maritime’s website.

More reports are needed to keep the scheme interesting and informative. All reports are read only by the Mars coordinator and are treated in the strictest confidence. To submit a report, please use the Mars report form.