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All the key ingredients for a navigational accident were in place long before the Malta-flagged oil and chemical tanker Ovit grounded on the Varne Bank in the Dover Strait in the early morning darkness of 18 September 2013. The report on the incident from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch, MAIB, identifies several layers of factors, not all of them on the bridge of the Ovit, that led to the grounding without which it would not have occurred.
The vessel was equipped with a Maris 900 ECDIS supplied and installed by STT Marine Electronics in Istanbul. An installation certificate issued on 1 April 2011 indicates that all systems had been properly configured and tested. They had not.
Because the ECDIS audio output communications port had not been configured, when an alarm activated, no signal was sent to the integral speaker in the ECDIS display. The fault had never been reported and it is likely that the alarm had no worked for a very long time, if ever.
Says MAIB: “Several of the features of the Maris 900 ECDIS on board Ovit were either difficult to use or appeared not to comply with international standards.”
All of Ovit’s deck officers had attended a generic ECDIS course and a type-specific ECDIS training course which focused on the Marine Information System AB Type 900 ECDIS (Maris 900) fitted on board Ovit. The type-specific training was delivered by STT Marine Electronics in Istanbul, which was endorsed by Marine Information Systems AS (Maris) as an authorised training provider for its systems. In at least one case cultural factors interfered with the effectiveness of the training: Ovit’s Turkish master was uncomfortable completing the course with junior officers. In particular, he found it embarrassing to ask questions.
Indeed, the master appears to have exhibited poor leadership generally. Says the MAIB report: “A ship’s master should have the confidence to set the standards for his bridge team, which should include leading by example and identifying and addressing training shortfalls. To achieve this, a master should have the necessary technical knowledge and professional skill. In this case, ECDIS was the primary means of navigation, but Ovit’s master was not confident using it. Therefore, he was reliant on his junior officers, who were also unable to operate the ECDIS effectively.
“At the time of the vessel’s grounding, the master had been on board Ovit for 3 months. This was ample time for him to better familiarise himself with the ECDIS operation, particularly its check-route function, which would have enabled him to oversee the work of his officers. By not making the effort to do this, the master set a poor example. Although Ovit’s master had been qualified as a master for 8 years and had completed a BRM course 6 months earlier, it is evident that his technical and management skills had not fully developed.
In an example of the gap between compliance and safety the officers’ training satisfied the requirements of STCW and the ISM, it is they were unable to safely and confidently operate the ECDIS on board Ovit and were unaware of the importance of critical safety settings and the significance of the system’s alarms. Their was apparently either ineffective, or insufficient, or both.
Onboard audits failed to identify the shortcomings and no competency assurance system was in place which might have identified training needs.
Fast forward to 15 September 2013, while the vessel was at anchor off Rotterdam. Although the second officer was the ships navigator it was the inexperience third officer who prepared the passage plan for the voyage between Rotterdam and Brindisi. He was not given any guidance by the master on how it should be prepared and no reference was made to previous, similar passages.
When the passage plan was completed, it was checked by the third officer by scrolling ahead and zooming in on each of the route’s legs in order to identify the navigational dangers. The third officer’s work was not supervised by the second officer.
The passage plan checklist, which was included in Ovit’s safety management system, SMS, and was completed by the third officer. Against the line ‘Are there any routing hazards?’ the ‘no’ box had been ticked. In addition, for the question, ‘Have the team members been made aware of any defective equipment?’ the response was ‘yes’.
Given that the intended route passed over the Varne Bank the ECDIS check-route page should have indicated that leg a unsafe. In fact it did so but officers interpreted the ‘No alarms’ notation on it to indicate that the route as safe. What the notation actually indicated was that no audible alarm could be sounded.
Even so, other functions should have ensured at least a visual alarm was triggered in event of less than optimal underkeel clearance, such as the safety contour setting, Unfortunately this appears not to have been adjusted since the EDCIS was installed and was still at the manufacturer’s default setting of 30 metres.
The safety contour should have been set to 13.5 metres, the ECDIS would have set this to next nearest safety contour, 20 metres. This made a significant difference to what was shown on the ECDIS screen.
As well as the autoload featurem which would load up the most appropriate chart for the conditions, being switched off, three other things were missing when Ovit pulled up its hook at Rotterdam and sailed for Brindisi: No alarm depth set on the echo sounder; BNWAS switched off; and crew moral.
Morale was reported as low. Several of the crew had expected to leave the vessel during recent port visits, including Hamburg, Germany, on 14 September 2013, but the crew changes had been cancelled. A planned delivery of cigarettes in Hamburg also did not arrive. The second officer did not want to remain on board and the newly promoted chief officer had been put under pressure by the delays in crew handover and the unavailability of cigarettes on board.
The master instructed the third officer to plan the passage from Rotterdam to Brindisi because it was assumed he would be taking over the second officer’s responsibilities when the second officer left the vessel. In effect, the master instructed the third officer to assume the duties of navigator while the second officer was still on board. However, there was no handover in this respect between the second and third officers and the master had not submitted his intended re-designation of duties to the ship’s manager for approval.
In an ideal world there is no excuse for a miserable crew to be unprofessional but low morale often features in serious accidents.
Prior to departure, the intended route was not checked by the master and there was no pre-departure brief among the deck officers.
Meanwhile on the other side of the Channel the last stitches in the safety net were unravelling. At the Channel Navigation Information Service, CNIS. Only three out of a ‘minimum’ of four qualified operators required to be on watch were present because the senior watch manager and a part-time watch officer were both on leave. None of the three remaining operators were nominated by the watch manager to be in charge during his absence. But the time of the grounding only one qualified operator was on station with two trainees because the watch manager and watch officer were both absent from the operations room on a meal break.
So it was that the trap was set, awaiting Ovit’s approach to the Varne Bank.
At 0230 on 18 September 2013, the chief officer took over from the second officer as the officer of the watch, OOW. he did not check the route ahead to identify potential navigational hazards or the navigational marks likely to be encountered during his watch so he was unaware that the ship’s intended track passed over the Varne Bank. He was also ignorant of the cardinal marks marking the danger.
He was joined by the deck cadet who was the assigned lookout. Ovit was following an autopilot controlled heading of 206° at a speed of between 12 and 13 knots. The OOW selected the scale on the ECDIS display that closely aligned with the 12 nautical miles range scale set on the
adjacent radar display. He then sat in the port bridge chair where he had a direct view of both displays (Figure 3). At about 0300, the heading on the autopilot was adjusted to 225°.
As Ovit approached the Varne Bank, the deck cadet, who was standing on the starboard side of the bridge and using binoculars, became aware of flashing white lights ahead. He did not identify the lights or report the sighting to the OOW.Tht noon-reporting was yet another notch in this incident.
At 0411, Ovit’s radar vector 2 crossed into the CNIS) Varne Bank alerting zone. This activated an audible alarm in the operations room at Dover Coastguard. The ship’s symbol on the CNIS display also changed from black to red and started to flash (Figure 5). The CNIS operator ‘authorised’ Ovit’s approach to the Varne Bank using a drop down menu on the CNIS display. This action silenced the audible alarm, and the ship’s symbol stopped flashing and its colour changed to black. The operator then returned to a VHF radio exchange with another vessel inside the CNIS area.
A VHF warning was not broadcast to Ovit because the CNIS operator was distracted. Also, the operator was not qualified for the role and was not supervised. In addition, there was no specific training in the alerting system, and the alertingprocedure had not been formalised.
The OOW had mainly remained seated in the chair in front of the ECDIS and radar displays. However, his alignment of the scale set on the ECDIS with the range scale on the adjacent radar display resulted in the ECDIS being on a scale of 1:151712, which was totally inappropriate for the area. Consequently, safety critical information was not displayed.
He showed no curiosity about the ‘jail bars’ that appeared on the display to indicate that something was wrong and did not manually load a better scale chart – something that might not have been necessary if the autoload feature had been activated.
At about 0417, Ovit passed close by the Varne Light Float. From 0432 the ship’s speed slowly reduced until the vessel stopped when it grounded on the Varne Bank at 0434.
It was another 19 minutes before the OOW realised the vessel was aground and another 14 minutes before the grounding was reported to Dover Coastguard.
Have you checked your ECDIS lately?