Jul 242009

John Clandillon-Baker, who edits the UK Pilots Magazine sent us this:

Ref your “Foggy Pilot” article your readers  may be interested in the editorial ( which deals with some of the issue raised) and the feature on piloting in fog that I did for the April issue of the Pilot which can be read at the following links:


The unprecedented jail sentence of John Cota has set an alarming precedent of criminalising a pilot and this is the topic of my editorial and feature for the July issue which I have just finalised. I usually upload content onto the website a few weeks after the print edition has been received by members so will advise you when I post it.


Lessons From Costa Atlantica – Be Like A Stripper

 accident reporting, collision, collision regulations  Comments Off on Lessons From Costa Atlantica – Be Like A Stripper
Nov 242008

Carnival UK, which includes Cunard, P&O and Ocean Village, is to commission a bridge simulator in Amsterdam following a close call incident between the Italian registered cruise ship Costa Atlantica and the panamanian-registered car carrier Grand Neptune in the Dover Straits in mid-May this year. All of the companies masters and deck officers will be required to have completed bridge team management, BTM, training by 2011. Masters and deck officers of vessels trading in Northern European waters will be required to have completed BTM training by 2009. The simulator is expected to become operational in 2009.

A recently released investigation report by the UK’s Maritime Accident Investigation Branch revealed that it was the first time the officer of the watch, recently promoted to Second Officer, had stood a navigational watch as OOW and had never stood a navigational watch while transiting or crossing the Dover Strait. He had been on the vessel for less than a month, having joined it on 25th April.

The master was unfamiliar with Northern European waters, including the Dover Straits. He did recognise his second officer’s inexerience and his own lack of familiarity. He increased the ship’s radar scale to assess risks posed by other vessels and increased speed to reduce the time it would take to cross the Traffic Separation Scheme.

To cross the TSS south west lane, the Second Officer intended to alter course to take the vessel across ahead of another ship, the MSC Serena. As a check, the master used the ‘trial manoeuvre’ function on the ARPA, which should have predicted the outcome, but he did not enter the time parameter. As a result, the radar display showed the vessel’s actual current CPA, not the predicted CPA after the trial manoeuvre, but is was this CPA on which the master based his decision to pass between Msc Serena and Grand Neptune.

Because the master and OOW were not familiar with the ‘trial manoeuvre’ function, the decisions now taken were based on inaccurate information. Had the second officer’s decision been followed, Costa Atlantica would, in fact, have safely passed ahead of MSC Serena by more than 1 nautical mile. Also, had the master and OOW continued looking at their options they might have noted that there was also a better, safer, crossing option between two other vessels.

Costa Atlantica entered the south west lane of the TSS at a fairly shallow angle rather than the 90 degrees required by Collision Regulation Rule 10(c). This made it appear that she was running against the traffic flow and her inentions were not immediately apparent to the pilot on the bridge of the Grand Neptune. Although Costa Altantica was manoeuvred to pass close astern of MSC Serena and ahead of Grand Neptune, the movements were so small that it was not bold enough to be apparent to the pilot onboard Grand Neptune.

For the safety of its passengers, it was practice on Costa Atlantica to use a turning radius of three nautical miles. In this instance this meant that the turn was not immediately apparent to other ships. Under such conditions it might have been more prudent to lessen speed, providing greater flexibility while maintaining the safety of passengers.

Soon after entering the traffic lane, Costa Atlantica was on a steady bearing with Grand Neptune. Steady bearings are bad news. The second officer did not respond to the sitution until Grand Neptune was at a range of 2.46 miles with a CPA of 0.06 nautical miles in 4.4 minutes. The second officer increased the turn to port but, again, this was not apparent to Grand Neptune.

A further issue was that those onboard Costa Atlantica were unaware of the limitations of ARPA and that, while accurate during a steady tracking state, it is less accurate when one’s own vessel is turning.

Given the uncertainties, and some difficulties in contacting Costa Atlantica, the pilot on Grand Neptune initiated a starboard 360 degree turn which resulted in a CPA of one nautical mile.

Fortunately the result was a close call rather than an accident with nearly 1,700 passengers on board the Costa Atlantica.

So, make sure you know how to run a trial manoeuvre and be aware unless you’re on a steady track you may not be getting the right answers from your ARPA.

Take those few extra seconds to go through options when in a crossing situation, the chances are you’ll find something better and safer.

Do remember to move like a stripper – be bold so there’s no mistake about your intentions.

Read the MAIB report here:

Nov 202008

Following MAC’s forceful comments on claims regarding the capsize and sinking of the east German cargo ship Magdeburg after a collision with a Japanese ship, Yamashiro Maru, made by journalist Andrew Rosthorn and ‘naval historian’ E. John McGarry that the Central Intelligence Agency created the incident, implicitly with the aid of a Thames River pilot and the master of the Japanese vessel, two pilots offered to study the data presented to consider whether such an operation was technically feasible and what might have actually caused the incident.

John Clandillon-Baker is editor of The Pilot, the publication of the UK Pilots Association:

Continue reading »


Magdeburg vs Yamashiro Maru – Plots and Clots

 capsize, collision, collision regulations, colregs  Comments Off on Magdeburg vs Yamashiro Maru – Plots and Clots
Oct 292008

MAC’s eye for mystery was caught by a recent report in the Observer retailing claims that the CIA was responsible for a collision of two vessels on the Thames in 1964. Real sea mysteries are fascinating, one of these days we’ll nose around the tale of the Mary Celeste, non-mysteries like the fraudulent ‘Bermuda Triangle’ we don’t have time for. Are tales of the CIA sinking ships in the Thames evidence of a plot, or the tales by a clot?

To set the scene for younger readers, 1964 was the height of the Cold War between capitalism, led by the US, and Communism, led by countries mainly belonging to the Soviet Bloc. Five years earlier, the corrupt Cuban regime of Fulgencio Batista was overthrown in a revolt lead by Fidel Castro, not a communist at the time, who appealed to the US for help rebuilding his country, was turned down and who turned to the Soviets for h only announcing two years after the revolution that Cuba was to be developed as a Soviet-style state. Subsequently, US President John Kennedy authorised an invasion of Cuba, a fiasco now know as the Bay Of Pigs, for which the Cubans have never been forgiven. The Cuban missile crisis didn’t improve their temper either.

Continue reading »


New Podcast – The Case Of The Church Bell

 collision, collision regulations, fire, maritime accidents  Comments Off on New Podcast – The Case Of The Church Bell
Oct 272008

Why is this ship's bell in London's oldest church?

Mariner’s Chapel in London’s oldest church displays the bell of the BP tanker British Trent, a memorial to the nine seafarers who died in a collision and fire off Belgium in 1993. Maritime Accident Casebook”s latest podcast explores why the lessons of the British Trent tragedy remain relevant fifteen years later and tests attitudes towards the criminalisation of seafarers.

Korean bulker carrier Western Winner powered into the port side of British Trent, which had a full cargo of 24,000 tones of gasoline, in thick fog on the morning of 3rd June, 1993. Western Winner holed British Trent’s hull, spilling gasoline which caught fire. Firefighting on British Trent was hampered by a fire main damaged by the impact. Nine seafarers died of smoke inhalation and heat, no casualties were suffered by Western Winner.

Western Winner’s owners attempted to hamper the subsequent investigation. Belgian officials at first laid criminal charges against Western Winner’s master, but later withdrew them.

Says Bob Couttie, writer and narrator of the episode: “One comes away with a sense that even after all this time, there hasn’t been closure for those who lost friends and loved ones on British Trent, nor, perhaps for the survivors. If not for the courage and discipline aboard, the toll could have been far higher. That alone is an important lesson: Training, drills and discipline save lives.”

An investigation by Britain’s Maritime Accident Investigation Branch on behalf of Bermuda identified the cause of the incident as failure to comply with the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea. Western Winner proceeded at an unsafe speed in restricted visibility, did not keep an adequate watch, and there appears to have been no passage plan. There was also a failure to keep an adequate continuous radar watch on the bridge of British Trent.

“This case is a classic example of why colregs are so important to understand and implement,” says Couttie, “It’s also a warning not to make assumptions about what another vessel is going to do.”

Also touched on is the issue of the criminalisation of seafarers. An inquest in the UK found that the death of the victims was an “unlawful killing” by those in command of the Western Winner.

Says Couttie: ”There has to be considerable doubt about the competency of the master of the Western Winner. Some comments about the case suggest that the master should have been tried on criminal charges and punished. The fact is that a certificate of competency doesn’t mean that someone can do the job. I would ask whether those who put him in command without ensuring that he was capable of safe navigation should bear responsibility, too.”

Like all MAC podcasts, The Case Of The Church Bell reveals the circumstance around a real event through an audio podcast and online materials available for free at the Maritime Accident Casebook website, http://maritimeaccident.org.

As with the preceding episodes, the podcast is backed by an illustrated online transcript that seafarers can read, discuss and share with their crewmates and other seafarers. Those with training and safety responsibilities can use the broadcasts and the transcripts freely.

Maritime Accident Casebook, MAC, is a unique, free, informal educational resource, supported by donations, for seafarers and maritime trainers which seeks to empower seafarers through knowledge to keep themselves alive and their ships safe. MAC encourages seafarers to discuss lessons learned from real-life events and apply them to their own vessels and working practices to create a safety-conscious community.

The Case Of The Church Bell

For further information about Maritime Accident Casebook see the website at http://maritimeaccident.org email mac@maritimeaccident.org

Dec 162007

Combined toplight - did they forget?

Sadly, it is unlikely we will know for sure what happened to the Sailfish 25 sloop Ouzo after she disappeared from the Southampton/Portsmouth VTS Sandown  Bay on the night of 21/22 August 2006.  Neither the boat nor any debris has so far been found to provide conclusive evidence regarding her loss, only the three bodies of her crew. The UK’s  Maritime Accident Investigation Branch believed that the tiny vessel collided with, or was swamped by, the ro-ro ferry Pride Of Bilbao, which encountered a small boat , invisible to radar which was spotted by its lights at about 300 metres, at 0107.  After studying other available data a team from  South Tyneside College proposed another vessel, the Crescent Beaune,  which did not have a lookout posted at the time and whose path may have crossed the Ouzo at 0140.

Regardless of how the Ouzo was lost, there are lessons to learn from the investigation. Continue reading »


Halifax explosion 90 years on – have we learned?

 collision, collision regulations, explosion  Comments Off on Halifax explosion 90 years on – have we learned?
Dec 062007

ou might wonder whether a 90 year old disaster can have much to teach today’s seafarers. Yes it can. Today is the 90th anniversary of the Halifax explosion that followed the collision of a munitions ship and a relief ship in the habour of Halifax, Nova Scotia, killing more than 1,600 people, laying waste the town over a two kilometre area radius, and creating a blast that was not to be exceeded until the the explosion of the atomic bomb at Alamagordo almost 30 years later.There are more details on CBC Canada’s website here so we’ll just cover a little of the background.

A war was on, the 1914-1918 conflict, and the French cargo ship Mont Blanc was loaded in New York with almost 230 tonnes of TNT, 1,600 tonnes of wet picric acid – a corrosive yellow explosive kept wet to prevent it exploding plus 544 tonnes of dry picric acid, both used in bombs and explosive shells, 56 tonnes of guncotton, n explosive material use in cannons and field guns, and 223 tonnes of benzol, an additive to extend fuel for military aircraft. Her master,Aimé Le Médec, set sail for Halifax that night.

Halifax was a bustling harbour under a confusion of control that included the Royal Navy and the Canadian Navy. It’s pilots were independent and, although regulations insisted they maintained communication about their movement they seems to have studiously ignored them.

Mont Blanc picked up the pilot, Frances Mackey, at 4pm but submarine nets had been strung across the harbour entrance and the ship had to wait until the next morning.

On the other side of the net was the Imo, a Belgian relief ship, bound for New York in ballast. Her master was Captain Haakon From. Her coal had been delivered latem so now she would be delayed by a day. So when the submarine net went down she was in a hurry, with a pilot aboard.

To cut to the chase, both ships tried to occupy the same space at the same time. Poor communications and lack of adherence to collision regulations resulted in a collision and fire at 8.40. Many Halifax rubber neckers went to the shore to see the spectacle of fire and small explosions, then, 20 minutes later the Mont Blanc’s entire cargo exploded.

Everything within two kilometres of the harbour’s edge was flattened. The Mont Blanc’s anchor was found three kilometres away, part of a gun was found five kilometres away. A ‘tsunami 18 metres high swept the shore. More than 1,600 were dead or dying, many to remain nameless. It was burned into the memories of those who survive to this day.
Much of Halifax looked like this. Film of the time looks remarkably like Hiroshima.

So, overlapping, confused authority, lack of communications, speed taking precedence over safe navigation and that old favourite: contraventions of colregs for the sake of convenience.

Perhaps the question isn’t ‘what lessons can we learn’ but ‘when will we start learning?’

Nov 222007

In one of those cosmic coincidences, at around the moment the Cosco Busan kissed the San Francisco-Oakland bridge while under pilotage the finishing touches were being put on a three-episode DVD for the American Club called, what else, Stranger On The Bridge.

AP&I says:“Stranger on the Bridge focuses on the responsibilities of deck crew, and the limitations of over-reliance on marine pilotage, in preventing accidents. It comprises three case studies which highlight the challenges in ensuring proper command and communication between pilot and crew. ”

The DVD was developed in cooperation with the International Development and Environmental Shipping School Interactive Technologies, Inc. (IDESS IT, Inc.) in Subic Bay, Philippines.

In fairness, I have to declare an interest: I wrote and directed the videos so I won’t comment on the DVD itself but I will say that IDESS IT has a great creative team of young people and a real commitment to maritime safety.

If you want to know more about Stranger On The Bridge click here.