Apr 212008

Minerva is the Goddess of  wisdom and music, so Minerva Concert might seem quite a good name for a ship, but the bridge team of the four-year old Greek-registered 105,817 DWT crude oil tanker  Minerva Concert certainly weren’t playing in tune when it grounded on Hatter Barn, off the Danish coast on 14 May, 2007, with 81,200 tonnes of crude aboard.

Fortunately, there was no pollution and the vessel was refloated with the help of Smit Salvage and docked for repair after the cargo was transferred to her sistership, Minerva Alexandra.

To give some context to the incident, it occurred in an area known as the Great Belt. It’s worth noting that a study of maritime accidents in the area between 1st January, 1997, and 1st July, 2005, found 46 groundings, 13 collisions and two contacts, or allisions as we like to call them today, with the Great Belt Bridge, one of which has been previously mentioned in Maritime Accident Casebook’s More on VTS-Assisted Accidents post.

An area, then, where it’s wise to keep your wits about you, even if some masters do hike off for a snooze when there’s a pilot onboard. Although that didn’t happen on the Minerva Concert, it might as well have done.

Here’s how it went down: The vessel left Fredericia, Denmark, on 14 May at 1400 local time with a pilot aboard accompanied by a trainee pilot. The weather was sunny, gentle winds and good visibility. Also on the bridge was the Master, the OOW and an AB as helmsman.

Although it was the pilot’s first time on Minerva Concert, he had experience from several sister ships. The ship and its equipment were in order. He brought his own charts with courses and parallel indexes inserted.

Departure from Fredericia was discussed between the Master and the pilot, in particular where the pilot wanted the tugs to be secured and how he intended to turn the vessel, but not the passage plan.

The pilot controlled the tugs when manoeuvring out of Fredericia and noticed that he had to make more course corrections than usual. He told the pilot trainee that the ship’s course did not correspond with the courses he was used to steer during his many years of piloting in the area.

North of Fyn and in the route north of Fyns Hoved it was necessary to make unusual course corrections to port. The pilot and the pilot trainee talked about it.

At about 1700 the pilot complained to the Master that, given his long experience on this passage, the gyrocompass was reading five degrees too high and needed to be checked. When the master checked the gyrocompass the repeaters, he found nothing wrong with them.

Shortly afterwards, the pilot ordered a course alteration to 043, which the helmsman says remained constant until just before the grounding when the pilot ordered 038.

Around 1750, the Master was occupied at the back of the bridge when the second officer told him that the pilot had given a course alteration out of the deep water route and into the traffic separation scheme. On the master’s request to the pilot, why he did not follow the deep water route, the pilot had answered that there was no problem using the Hatter Barn channel. The pilot referred to the note in the chart which read that there is a minimum dept of water of 15 metres in the traffic separation scheme and that it should be used by ships with a draught not exceeding 13 metres. The master then accepted that it was suitable for the ship to use this channel.

At 1800 the Second Officer took over from the master. There were no charts on either of the two radars and parallel index was not used during the last part of the passage. The 2nd officer only used the radar for checking the traffic and for checking the ship’s position.

Meanwhile the pilot and the trainee were at the front of the bridge talking and occassionally looking at the radars.. Thery paid so little attention to the rest of the bridge team that the Pilot didn’t know there had been a watch change.

Five minutes later, at 1805, the second officer plotted the ship’s position and noted that a red buoy was dead ahead. He didn’t think anything was amiss and telephoned the third engineer about a small reduction in RPM.

It was then that the pilot ordered the course alteration to 038. Shortly afterwards, and before the ship could reach the new heading, the second officer felt a vibration and heard the pilot shout, as did the master in his office.

The pilot had suddenly seen the Leveret red buoy on the port bow, previously hidden by the ship’s crane, realised it was in the wrong place and called for full port rudder, but too late. She had grounded at 1816.

Looking through his window, the master saw a red buoy to port and rushed up to the bridge, where the second officer had already ordered stop engines. He noticed that the gyro course was 044 when he entered the bridge, afterwards it changed to 050 and later to 052.

The reasons for the apparently anomalous behaviour of the ship remain unknown. At a fairly early stage after the grounding there was discussion about a crack in the hull but it is not discussed by the investigators.

What we do have are very classic elements in this sort of incident: The lack of discussion of the passage plan and briefing by the pilot of his intentions. Doing so enables those on the bridge to prepare in advance for course alterations and allows them to give appropriate input to the pilot

Neither the OOW nor the pilot knew what each other was doing, always a bad sign, and there was little communications between the pilot and others on the bridge.

Added to those elements is the fact that the pilot concentrated on talking to the trainee pilot and spent much of his time in one position, a position from which he could not see the warning buoy, hidden as it was by the ship’s crane.

Classically, the pilot is an advisor, but he does need to be advised. Had the second officer called attention to the red bouy when he marked the chart, the incident might have been avoided.

The first three rules of Bridge Team Management are:

1: Communicate

2: Communicate

3: Communicate

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