Passing Gas with a Whispa

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Dec 282007

The UK’s MAIB has released the results of its investigation into the collision between the yacht Whispa and the LPG carrier Gas Monarch. The report comes in the wake of the clearing of manslaughter charges against a ship’s officer for the deaths of three yachtsmen following that boat’s collision with a large vessel.

The Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) carrier, Gas Monarch, collided with the sailing yacht, Whispa, in dense fog 6 miles ESE of Lowestoft on the evening of 16 April 2007. There were no physical injuries on either vessel. There was no damage to Gas Monarch and initial structural damage to Whispa was relatively minor. However, the damage to the yacht worsened due to progressive flooding as she was towed to Lowestoft by a lifeboat.

Gas Monarch was proceeding at full speed, in fog, when her master left the bridge in the hands of his third officer (3/O) and an able bodied seaman (AB), contrary to his own standing orders. The 3/O had been on watch for about 1hour 40 minutes when Whispa appeared out of the fog on a crossing course at very short range. Evasive action by both craft was unsuccessful and the vessels collided.

Prior to the collision, the 3/O on Gas Monarch had detected Whispa by radar and had calculated that the contact would pass clear to starboard. Gas Monarch lost Whispa’s radar contact at a distance of just under 3 miles, but carried on at full speed with no sound signals in the dense fog.

Whispa was motoring on her auxiliary engine with her skipper on watch and his crew member resting below. The yacht skipper had detected Gas Monarch by radar and monitored the target track close to his radar heading marker, for several miles. Whispa’s skipper had limited knowledge of his radar’s capabilities or limitations; without plotting, calculating a closest point of approach (CPA), or establishing Gas Monarch’s speed he concluded that the vessels were on a collision course. Whispa made a bold alteration to starboard when the vessels were just over a mile apart (and closing at fully 18 knots) but this action, instead of moving Whispa clear of Gas Monarch, brought the two vessels onto a collision path.

Gas Monarch’s bow struck Whispa’s port transom and rudder, slewing the yacht round to port and pushing her clear, which allowed the vessels to pass without further contact.

The 3/O on Gas Monarch was in a state of shock as a result of the incident and did not slow the ship. Hearing Whispa’s distress call stimulated him into calling the master, who rushed to the bridge, immediately stopped the ship, and identified Gas Monarch to the coastguard. Gas Monarch stood by Whispa until the yacht was taken in tow by the lifeboat.

The MAIB investigation identified a number of contributing factors to the accident, including:

• A failure by both vessels to abide by collision avoidance regulations
• Deteriorated performance and accuracy of both vessels’ radars
• Lack of experience by Gas Monarch’s third officer, compounded by lack of support from the master
• Inappropriate use of radar equipment by both vessels.

As a result of the accident, the managers of Gas Monarch have:
• Serviced and replaced magnetrons in both radars
• Implemented bridge team refresher training
• Reviewed and intensified its fleet audit procedures
• Recommended to her owners the replacement of electronic radar plotting aids with Automatic Radar Plotting Aids (ARPA)
• Accelerated S-VDR installation throughout its fleet.

As a result of the accident, Whispa’s owner has:
• Installed AIS “B” to improve detection by ships monitoring the system
• Installed a GMDSS DSC VHF radio
• Installed additional bilge pumps and bilge warning alarms.

In addition, the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) has:
• Added a Radar Performance Monitor guidance note to its Vessel Inspection Questionnaires
• Proposed amendments to its Tanker Management Self Assessment tool to reflect that all vessels should be fitted with ARPA as best practice.

Recommendations have been made to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and Comité International Radio-Maritime1 (CIRM) regarding small commercial vessel training requirements and radar training.

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 »