Oct 192009

imageJessica Watson checked her radar at 0146 to check for traffic before taking a 20 minute catnap she spotted a vessel about 6 miles off her starboard quarter and in a safe situation so went to sleep with an alarm set. Her alarm didn’t wake her, the collision of her tiny yacht with a 225 metre bulker five minutes later as the officer of the watch tried to avoid her did that job.

What Jessica had not seen in her radar check, for reasons we’ll have to await the final Australian Transport Safety Board to find out, was the Silver Yang just a mile off. ATSB released its preliminary report a diplomatic two days after the 16-year old adventurer departed Mooloolaba, Queensland, for what will be a trip of a lifetime. It will be another six months or so before the final report is released but ATSB is distributing the preliminary report to highlight the issue of yacht-ship encounters and hit-and-run vesssels.

imageSays ATSB: “This collision highlights the ATSB’s ongoing concerns about collisions involving trading ships and smaller vessels with 35 investigations into such collisions since 1990. Most concerning for the ATSB is that 20 ships did not stop following the collision, which did not happen in this instance (Silver Yang stopped to determine whether Watson needed assistance. Mac).

“The ATSB has already done a considerable amount of work to address the safety issues we have identified in these collisions and we are actively working both within Australia and internationally, to address the issue of ships failing to stop and render assistance.”

In Watson’s case, according to the ATSB report approximately 26 minutes before the collision, Silver Yang’s bridge watch keeper reported observing one green light to port, at a range of about four miles, it was Ellaʼs Pink Lady. He continued to monitor the vessel’s position in relation to his own.

At 0146, five minutes before the collision, the skipper of the yacht had checked her radar and noted that there was a vessel about six miles off her starboard quarter, almost right astern of the yacht. She could not see it visually, but she monitored its progress on the radar for about one minute. Once she had determined that it did not present a collision risk, she set the radar guard-rings, set her alarm clocks and went to bed for a catnap. However, the ship she was observing was not Silver Yang, which was now about 1 mile to the south-southeast of her position.

About three minutes before the collision, Silver Yangʼs bridge watch keeper altered the ship’s heading by 10° to starboard and then almost immediately applied hard-to starboard rudder about 30 seconds before the collision in an attempt to avoid Ellaʼs Pink Lady. However his efforts were unsuccessful and Ellaʼs Pink Lady’s bow collided with Silver Yang’s port side mid section.

The collision woke Ellaʼs Pink Lady’s skipper. She climbed out of the cabin, grabbed the tiller and tried to steer the yacht. She looked upwards and thought that is was likely that the yacht’s rigging would become entangled with the ship and dismast her vessel, so she returned to the cabin. A few seconds later, the mast came crashing down.

Ellaʼs Pink Lady’s skipper called Silver Yang on VHF channel 16 and, over a series of short conversations, the ship’s watch keeper confirmed that neither the yacht nor its crew needed any assistance. Because of the English speaking ability of the ship’s bridge watch keeper, the conversations were difficult. He then resumed the voyage.

Ellaʼs Pink Lady’s skipper used the yacht’s satellite telephone to call her parents and returned to port.

Two ATSB  investigators went to the gold Coast to meet the yacht when it arrived later that day. Investigators interviewed the skipper, her family and support team members and evidence was collected from them and Queensland authorities. Because Silver Yang was en route to China, the ATSB have not been able interview its crew and requested the assistance of the Hong Kong Marine Department to obtain evidence from the ship when it reached China.

The evidence from Silver Yang was received from the Hong Kong authorities last week and included statements from the relevant crew members, various documents and the information from the ship’s Voyage Data Recorder, or “Black Box”, which is now being analysed.

Says ATSB: “A number of safety issues were identified in the course of preparing this preliminary report. A draft copy of the report was hand-delivered to Ellaʼs Pink Ladyʼs skipper and her family and support crew on 9 October. Investigators also provided a comprehensive face-to-face briefing on the investigation and facilitated a visit to the bridge of a large tanker berthed in Sydney. This was to give the skipper an understanding of the limitations of shipboard equipment, the difficulties ships’ crews have in detecting small vessels and the actions a ship’s officer may take following a collision or near miss.”

The investigation continues and a final report is planned for release in approximately
six months. In the event that any further safety issues are identified, they will be
brought to the attention of the skipper’s support crew, who remain in regular contact
with her. Based on the evidence obtained, the ATSB investigation will be focusing on
several areas including:

• The electronic detectability of the yacht

• The lookout being kept on board both vessels

• Adherence to the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at

• Collision risk assessment

• Actions taken following the collision

• Human factors issues associated with the incident.

The International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea (COLREGS), or “rules of the road” observed by every vessel, requires both vessels in a potential collision situation to take appropriate steps to avoid the collision. If the collision does occur, it means that there must be contributing safety factors relating to the operation of both vessels.

Relevant posts:

Lessons From Ouzo,Dodgy Specs and Deadly Life Jackets
MAIB Ouzo Report


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