Nightmare for Mariners, Shipping Companies and P&I Clubs : Collision at Sea

safmarine meru collision
provided by Chinese news media

“In meeting steamers do not dread when you see three lights ahead, right your wheel and show your red.

If upon your port is seen a steamer with a light of green, there’s not much for you to do, the green light must keep clear of you.

But if on starboard red appear, tis your duty to keep clear. Do as judgment says is proper, port or starboard, back or stop her.

In meeting steamers you should try to keep this maxim in your eye. Green to green and red to red, perfect safety go ahead.

If in safety or in doubt, always keep a good lookout. Should there be no room to turn, stop the ship and go astern.” – Rickard Anderson

Poetry or COLREGS mnemonic?  Things have changed a little since the time that an aged Swedish master mariner taught this to his son.  Red to red is the way to go for a head-on (meeting) situation, and green to green is frowned upon.  It is easy to imagine that generations of mariners have learned the basics of COLREGs in this manner.  It’s unfortunate that in this modern day, it doesn’t appear to always be remembered.

Off the coast of Ningbo, China the bridge watches on container ships Safmarine Meru and Northern Jasper managed to disregard, forget or otherwise fail to follow the above axiom.  Watching the AIS recreation below provided by VesselFinder, it appears that in the final close quarters situation, one vessel went left, while the other vessel went right – a situation that is almost sure to end in disaster.

We will likely not have all the facts in this case until years down the road, when the accident report is released by the flag state of one or the other of the ships involved.  Looking at the AIS picture a short 12 hours after this incident, other ship traffic in the area is heavy and it is also an area where large fishing fleets are encountered.  Whether it was factors such as these, navigation hazards or the ever-looming specter of the human element, yet another collision has occurred.


Head-on Situation

(a) When two power-driven vessels are meeting on reciprocal or nearly reciprocal courses so as to involve risk of collision each shall alter her course to starboard so that each shall pass on the port side of the other.

(b) Such a situation shall be deemed to exist when a vessel sees the other ahead or nearly ahead and by night she could see the masthead lights of the other in a line or nearly in a line and/or both sidelights and by day she observes the corresponding aspect of the other vessel.

(c) When a vessel is in any doubt as to whether such a situation exists she shall assume that it does exist and act accordingly.

Was this viewed by both vessels as a head-on situation?  Were there other factors as mentioned above?  Regardless, paragraph (c) of COLREGs Rule 14 would direct a vessel in such doubt to alter her course to starboard.  The fact that Northern Jasper turned to port is concerning and may play a critical role in apportioning fault.  Captain Sabbir Mahmood of the Bangladesh Marine Academy shares his knowledge and history of tort law in maritime collision cases in his dissertation (linked below).

Our thoughts are with the mariners involved with this collision and their families.  It is our understanding that all mariners are accounted for and safe.  The preliminary and final reports from Hong Kong (Safmarine Meru) and Liberian (Northern Jasper) maritime authorities are anxiously awaited.

Let’s be safe out there.

Additional Reading and Links

USCG : Navigation Rules – Inland/International

Japan P&I Club : Bridge Watchkeeping and Collision Avoidance

Captain Sabbir Mahmood : Liability in Maritime Collision Case : How Is Fault Apportioned?”

Madden Maritime : Collisions Happen….

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