Collisions at sea are not nearly as unusual as we might think. While high profile cases such as the recent fatal collision between the tanker Sanchi and bulk carrier CF Crystal capture the international media’s attention, there are vast numbers that never get mentioned in the news whatsoever.
During recent radar training, it was noted that three types of vessels threw fear into the instructor – sailboats, fishing boats and pirates – due to their relative lack of radar reflectivity and ability to blend into the visual landscape. The UK P&I Club and maddenMaritime have previously addressed avoiding collisions with fishing boats. This latest “Lessons Learned” comes from Captain David Nichol at the UK P&I Club :
The incident occurred in open water during the hours of darkness with the sea state described as rough, wind BF 6-7 and good visibility. Apart from the officer of the watch (OOW), an AB was also present on the bridge as look-out and steering was on autopilot. Midway through the watch, the OOW permitted the AB to perform cleaning and housekeeping duties in the accommodation and therefore became the sole lookout. Shortly after taking an azimuth bearing to check the compass error, the OOW sighted a white light almost dead ahead and apparently at very close range. Before effective avoiding action could be taken by the OOW, a yacht under sail was seen passing along the port side hull, at which point he called the Master. The yacht crew transmitted a distress message by VHF radio reporting that they had been struck by another vessel, sustaining serious damage and flooding. The tanker then manoeuvred to make a lee for the yacht and successfully rescued the crew.
The decision by the OOW in allowing the AB to leave the bridge to carry out other duties at night was a serious breach of Rule 5 of the COLREGS and STCW requirements for the keeping of a safe navigational watch. The absence of the AB meant that it was not possible to maintain a proper look-out taking into consideration the requirement of the OOW to perform other navigational duties. Although a sole look-out may be permissible during daylight hours in certain favourable circumstances, the OOW should not be the sole look-out during hours of darkness. Later examination of the evidence and preserved VDR recordings was able to show that the yacht appeared consistently on the radar display at a range of about 3 miles from the tanker. If a proper look-out had been maintained on the tanker by sight and all other available means, sufficient time would still have been available to the OOW to assess the situation and take necessary avoiding action.