A new Nautical Institute Mars Report discusses how a tablet on the bridge distracted a lone watchkeeper resulting in a collision with fatalities. Alcohol was another factor in this accident.

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 dredger was being transited to winter quarters after a season of dredging, with only two crew members remaining on board. In the early morning hours, and in darkness, the dredger entered a Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) at a speed of about six knots. The lone officer of the watch (OOW) was on the bridge while the other crew member was asleep in his cabin.

Meanwhile, a loaded bulk carrier was also proceeding in the TSS in the same direction as the dredger, but was about 8 nm behind and to port. The bulk carrier’s OOW was sitting in the navigation chair and using his tablet computer to engage on a video chat site. At one point, the OOW even turned on the interior lights of the bulk carrier’s bridge to show his surroundings to the person on the other end of the chat. He continued to chat sporadically with various individuals until 02:02 when he altered course while continuing with his online chat.

Shortly afterwards, he switched on the searchlight to show a chat user the ship’s deck and cargo on the hatches forward. He then continued to engage with several individuals on the chat site. At 03:03, the bulk carrier’s AIS registered the dredger as a dangerous target 2.2 nm ahead on the starboard bow, with a closest point of approach (CPA) of 0.88 nm and a time to CPA of nearly twenty minutes. About eighteen minutes later, with the vessel close to a course alteration waypoint, he told the chat user that he needed to alter course and adjusted the autopilot to 270 degrees. The dredger was now bearing 289 degrees at 0.82 nm range (see picture 1 above).

Three minutes later, both vessels exited the TSS and entered a precautionary area. The OOW on the bulk carrier once again connected with a chat user and conversed with them while altering course. Now, the bulk carrier was steering 270 degrees with the dredger on a steady bearing of 298 degrees and a range of 0.6 nm (picture 2). Very soon after, the OOW was heard to exclaim ‘Wait, wait, wait!’ He then pulled back the main engine propeller pitch control lever, switched on a second steering motor and disengaged the autopilot. Fifteen seconds later, he moved the telegraph to full astern.

Mars 202421 course changes leading up to collision 2 and 3

Notwithstanding these last minute attempts, the bulk carrier collided with the port side of the dredger at a relative speed of 8.7 kts (picture 3). The bulk carrier’s master awoke when he felt a bump; assuming it was a large wave hitting the bow, he did not consider it unusual and tried to resume sleep. The collision caused the dredger to roll over and capsize in as little as twenty seconds. Neither of the two crew members survived.

Following the collision, the bulk carrier’s OOW did not immediately call the master or raise the alarm, but returned the ship to its original course and speed. The dredger’s automatic emergency radio beacon (EPIRB) transmission alerted local authorities and they determined that the two ships might have collided. Only after queries from shore authorities and about fifteen minutes after the accident did the OOW call the master and explain they might have collided with another vessel.

Also read: Alcohol consumption contributory factor in crane crush fatality

Investigation findings

The investigation found, among other things, that the bulk carrier’s OOW had reduced situational awareness due to unnecessary distractions; he had not seen the dredger until the last moment. The tablet had been almost constantly in use for over two hours, during which no interaction with navigational equipment such as target acquisition on the radar or target interrogation on the ECDIS was recorded on the Voyage Data Recorder (VDR).

Additionally, the bridge equipment was not set optimally, and the alarms designed to warn of dangerous situations had been disabled, silenced or switched off.

The investigation also found that, subsequent to tests after the accident, the OOW had been under the influence of alcohol at the time of the tragedy.

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

Advice from The Nautical Institute

  • Time and again the lack of an adequate lookout has contributed to vessel collisions. In this case, both vessels had a lone OOW in darkness.
  • Poor situational awareness due to distractions is a common theme in collisions.
  • Following a collision at sea it is every mariner’s duty not only to ensure the safety of their vessel and crew but also that of the other vessel. Any other reaction is not only unethical and unprofessional but probably criminal.
  • Danger alarms on navigation instruments such as AIS, RADAR and ECDIS are safety features that, under almost all circumstances, need to be activated while underway.
  • Alcohol does not mix with work. Not only are reaction time and coordination affected, but also overall judgment. For example, in some road vehicle “hit and run” accidents where the driver has been under the influence of alcohol, it has been shown that they have deliberately decided not to stop to help the victim. This seems to have been the case in this accident as well.

Also read: Alcohol and fatigue lead to vessel grounding

Mars Reports

This accident was covered in the Mars Reports, originally published as Mars 202421, that are part of Report Number 378. 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: Poor situational awareness leads to collision