Apr 082009

Large chunks of floating steel do not easily occupy the same space at the same time. Ships often carry an ECDIS and there may be an argument for adding a Tardis device, which Dr. Who fans will recognise as Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. MAC pondered so as he read the latest Safety Digest from the Maritime Accident Investigation Branch.
Always a fascinating read, MAIB’s Safety Digests are a sort of ‘Hitchcock’s Half Hour’ for mariners. The latest includes a poisonous carbon monoxide leak in a wheelhouse from a space heater; the death of a fitter who fell into an open cargo hold; anchor dragging; yet another fatigue-related incident and if your ro-ro is in layup you can find out how to give it a second life as a car-crusher. What sparked MAC’s musings on the Tardis was the following incident:

“A 17,000 tonne ro-ro vessel had just commenced a new time charter and was making her first entry into one of the ports on her new route. The bridge team was relatively inexperienced and had not worked together before. The team consisted of the master, who had recently joined the vessel and had no previous experience of ro-ro vessels; the chief officer, who was newly promoted and was on the bridge for only the second time in this role; and a charterer’s representative, who held a Pilotage Exemption Certificate (PEC) for the port but had no ship handling experience and had only joined the vessel the evening before the accident.

As the vessel approached the port, which was entered from a river via a lock, the master, chief officer and PEC holder discussed the tidal conditions and the manoeuvre required for entry to the lock. It was not clarified as to who would perform the manoeuvre and there was an assumption on behalf of the master and the PEC holder, based on their previous experience, that the other would be taking the controls. In the event, the vessel was manoeuvred into the lock with both the master and PEC holder making control interventions.

Closer and closerIn the lock, the PEC holder sought to reassure the master, who was clearly uncomfortable and unfamiliar with manoeuvring a vessel in a confined area. Once the lock had filled, the vessel entered the dock and made her way towards the berth which the PEC holder assumed she would be using.

Proceeding stern first, both men again were making control interventions as she approached the berth, which was not visible from the bridge wing control position from which the master and PEC holder were controlling the vessel. An officer, who was stationed aft, relayed the distances of the stern from the shore and other vessels in the dock.

When the vessel was close to the berth, the officer aft started to report a rapidly decreasing distance from another vessel, which the PEC holder assumed was on an adjacent berth, until the officer reported that the stern was less than 10 metres from the other vessel, which they were about to hit.

The PEC holder ran across to the other bridge wing and realised, just as contact was made, that the other vessel was, in fact, on the berth he had expected his vessel to occupy. The contact caused material damage to both vessels.

1. If the passage had been properly planned from berth to berth, and discussed, the collective lack of ship handling experience and training within the bridge team would have been highlighted at an early stage, and consideration could have been given to employing a pilot.

2. In addition to passage planning, had the chief officer and the officer aft been properly briefed for the berthing operation, they would have been able to contribute fully to its successful completion.

3.A few days before the accident, the Competent Harbour Authority for the port added the vessel to the PEC holder’s certificate. The addition was made on the basis that the vessel was similar in size to another vessel already on his certificate. However, no check had been made to ensure the PEC holder was a competent ship handler before issuing him with his certificate.

4. When the vessel was chartered, the PEC holder was appointed to the vessel as the charterer’s representative to perform pilotage duties. He was not signed on the vessel’s crew agreement and was not her bona fide master or first mate as required by the Pilotage Act 1987, and he was not therefore fully integrated with the vessel’s bridge team.

5. An assumption was made by the charterer that the vessel’s master would be trained and experienced in ship handling. The owner, in turn, assumed that the PEC holder would be trained and experienced in ship handling.
In the event, neither had the necessary training or experience, and they were placed in a difficult situation that could have been avoided if their respective managers had made an appropriate assessment of their ship handling expertise before appointing them to the vessel.

MAC wonders if Dr. Who has his PEC?

Download the Safety Digest Here

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