Over the next decade the use of Electronic Chart Display Information Systems as the primary means of navigation will grow. The grounding of the dry cargo ship CL Performer off England’s east coast in May this year shows a great gap in competency yet to be filled if incidents involving ECDIS on vessels without paper charts are to be kept within reasonable limits.
In the case of CFL Performer none of the watch keeping officers had been trained how to use ECDIS so were not familiar with, or aware of, aspects of the equipment operation that might have prevented the incident. This situation is likely to be common since, as yet, specific competencies in the use of ECDIS are not included in the current STCW code.
Proposals to include ECDIS competencies in STCW are currently under consideration by the International Maritime Organisation. The UK’s Maritime Accident Investigation Branch,MAIB, has recommended that the Marine and Coast Guard Agency, MCA, support those proposals and to ensure that the training actually meets the needs of fitness for purpose and assessed by both examination and performance.
As with most incidents the grounding of the CFL Performer was the result of several factors, not just lack of knowledge of ECDIS operations: The master decided to depart from the passage plan to same time No new passage plan was prepared and the Officer Of the Watch used a chart scale that was too large to show that the ship had too great a draft, 5.9 metres, to safely follow the new course, resulting in grounding on Haisborough Sand, which was as shallow as 2 metres in places. The chart used was 1:50,000 and depths of less than 10 metres were not marked.
The ECDIS alarm was not activated properly so no warning was given of the lack of under keel clearance.
Among the lessons learned, other than ‘know how to use the ECDIS’, are: Changes to passage plans are carefully examined for potential hazards and monitor the passage carefully; Use charts of appropriate scale.
In a memorandum to its officers after the incident, Canada Feeder Lines notes:
“There is more to life than just ECDIS!! ECDIS is a great tool but one may never reply on it fully and solely. Whilst approaching Grimsby (and other port) there are several other ways of checking one’s course;azimuths, buoys, lighthouses,echo sounder and common sense (eyes and ears) etc.”
At the same time, it is important that shipowners and operators ensure that their crewing agencies are aware of the need to ensure that officers do have the training and demonstrable ability to use ECDIS properly. One can hardly expect someone to use equipment they haven’t been trained to use or don’t have experience in using.
Safety management systems should ensure that shipboard familiarisation covers equipment that an officer is expected to use and ensure that he or she can use it.
One other issue worth noting: The Designated Person Ashore, DPA, was not told about the incident because the master did not think it necessary. This is contrary to the International Ship Management Code, ISM. CFL’s comment was: “we find it rather naïve to think that any ship gets away unnoticed nowadays realizing that all ships are being monitored in busy traffic areas like the UK Channel, North Sea area, US Coast etc.”