Mistaken identification of a radar-prominent island, inadequately programmed radar alarms and lack of cross-control on the bridge led to the grounding of the 170 metre chemical tanker Sichem Osprey at 16 knots as the Officer of the Watch sipped his second coffee of the day.
Clipperton Island is a low-lying uninhabited nine-square-kilometre coral atoll owned by France in the eastern Pacific Ocean. It is for John Clipperton, a pirate who made it his hideout early in the 18th century.
Although the island has no lighthouse, racon or buoyage system it does have a pronounced radar signature at a 14 nautical miles. Scattered showers had been observed on an earlier watch and the target was assumed to be a rain cloud and deselected.
Says French maritime investigation agency Bureau d’enquêtes sur les évènements de mer, BEAMer: “Anti-collision radar alarm thresholds were not set according to the captain’s instructions, 0.5 mile and 6 minutes instead of 2 miles and 20 minutes; these adjustments, set by the navigation officer, were not reappraised by any of the officers even by the captain”.
The master has only recently joined the ship and had not previously worked with the other officers. For the navigation, he relied on the 2nd officer, who was officer in charge of the navigation.
The master, as well as the first officer and second officer, was navigating this route for the first time.
The first officer had the watch at the time of the grounding, assisted by a cadet who was the lookout.
According to BEAMer: “It seems that Sichem Osprey officers would not have been assessed before this distant trade voyage leading them from the south-east of the USA… This lack of assessment and of training, chargeable to the vessel technical manager, could also be an underlying factor of the accident”.
At 0355 the first officer arrived on the bridge to prepare to take the watch over from the 2nd. officer and went to the starboard radar display. He saw a plotted radar echo at 11.05 miles. The 2nd officer told him it was presumably a cloud. Then the first officer sat on a stool in the starboard fore corner of the bridge to smoke a cigarette and to drink a first coffee. Radar and ECDIS starboard displays were out of his field of view.
By now, the second officer had deselected the ‘cloud’ and ,says BEAMer: “…disabled the possibility of an alarm when the vessel would be in a very close position from the island”.
It is self-evident that the first officer did not compare the radar target to the chart or ECDIS displays before taking his first coffee.
At 0400 the second officer left the bridge and the first officer officially took the watch. He did not. The speed displayed by the GPS was 16 knots. He talked to the lookout for a while and then get back to the starboard corner to drink another coffee.
Thirty-six minutes later Sichem Osprey grounded on the soft coral and sand of Clipperton Island.