There is no substitute for keeping a sharp lookout by all available means. The Nautical Institute gives this warning in its latest Mars Report, in which a fishing vessel repeatedly bumped into a cargo vessel after not seeing it.

The Nautical Institute gathers reports of maritime accidents and near-misses. It then publishes these so-called Mars (Mariners’ Alerting and Reporting Scheme) Reports (anonymously) to prevent other accidents from happening. This is one of these reports.

A general cargo vessel was proceeding in a Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) at reduced power due to engine problems, making 4.5 knots at dead slow ahead. It was dark, but visibility was good.

On the bridge, the officer of the watch (OOW) was accompanied by a lookout. The closest point of approach (CPA) alarm was triggered on the ECDIS, and the OOW observed that a vessel was approaching them from astern, with a CPA of 0.2 nm.

After acquiring the vessel on the ECDIS, the OOW recognised the target was a fishing vessel. The CPA was now 0.1 nm and the vessel was doing about 9 knots. The fishing vessel was in sight from the wheelhouse and the OOW estimated that it would overtake them on their port side.

Concerned about the small CPA, the OOW called the fishing boat on the VHF Channel 16, but received no reply. He observed that the fishing vessel had appeared to execute a minor course change, and he noticed a slightly increased CPA. Satisfied that his call had been received, the OOW then sat down at the desk in the wheelhouse to carry out some administrative tasks. From that position, he had no direct view of the radar screen. The lookout, now focused on the situation ahead, did not look astern again.

Fishing vessel involved in collision Mars 202414
The fishing vessel involved in the collision (photo The Nautical Institute).

Some minutes later, the fishing vessel hit the stern of the cargo vessel. The lone watchkeeper on the fishing vessel felt a bump and looked forward, but he did not see the cargo vessel. A second and third bump followed. The master of the fishing vessel arrived in the wheelhouse. As the fishing vessel altered course, they saw the lights of the cargo vessel and realised they had bumped into its stern.

The cargo vessel suffered a hole in its stern in way of the steering gear compartment. Taking on water, the vessel had to make a deviation to a port of refuge.

Also read: Scot Carrier and Karin Høj had no lookouts during fatal collision

Investigation findings

Among other things, the investigation found that the cargo vessel’s small size and low freeboard made it difficult to see the white stern light, which was positioned just above the waterline. Additionally, the fishing vessel was trimmed aft, and had masts that hindered the view of low objects forward (see image below), again making visual detection of the cargo vessel difficult. The report also found that the CPA alarm on board the fishing vessel was not activated prior to the collision.

Also read: Collision of tanker and fishing boat in good visibility

Advice from The Nautical Institute

  • Notwithstanding the low aspect presented by the cargo vessel and the poor visibility from the fishing vessel’s wheelhouse, there is no substitute for keeping a sharp lookout by all available means. There really is no excuse for bumping into another vessel ahead and not even knowing what happened.
  • Never assume a situation is clear until it is truly clear. In this case the OOW of the cargo vessel attended to other duties after assuming the fishing vessel was taking the appropriate action to avoid his vessel.
  • CPA alarms are a welcome tool – keep them active.

Mars Reports

This accident was covered in the Mars Reports, originally published as Mars 202414, that are part of Report Number 377. A selection of the Mars Reports are also published in the SWZ|Maritime magazine. The Nautical Institute compiles these reports to help prevent maritime accidents. That is why they are also published (in full) 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.

Also read: Another collision in daylight and good visibility