Surprising Development in USS Guardian – Philippines To Invoke IMO Casualty Code

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Feb 052013
Battered USS Guardian may be first Philippine case under the IMO Code

Battered USS Guardian may be first Philippine case under the IMO Code

In what may be a promising step forward for maritime accident investigation in the Philippines the country’s coast guard is to follow the IMO code of casualty investigation for it’s enquiry into the grounding of the USS Guardian. This will be the first investigation to follow the IMO code and is particularly unusual because it involves a military vessel of a foreign power.

In the Official Gazette, a joint US/Philippine statement says: “The Philippine government stated that the Philippine Coast Guard had commenced its independent inquiry into the grounding of the USS Guardian. Upon receipt of information on the incident, the Philippine Coast Guard formed the Maritime Casualty Investigation Team (MCIT) in accordance with its standard procedures and resolutions of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on serious maritime incidents to establish the circumstances and causes of the grounding on Tubbataha Reef and to formulate safety measures to prevent a repetition of this incident”.

This will be the first time that a case has been investigated under the IMO casualty code.

No agency in the Philippines is charged with conducting non-liability investigations. Although recent legislation, RA 9993, has been passed which mandates adherence to the IMO code, the regulations and rules have bogged down on the insistence by the Board of Marine Inquiry, BMI, a body established to assess liability, that it alone has the authority to carry investigations although it has no members professionally trained to do so and its aims conflict with the requirements of the IMO Code. Those involved in trying to bring the Philippines in line with international standards have expressed frustration at the slowness and lack of understanding of those tasked with implementing the new code.

Whether the MCIT will form the basis for an IMO-complaint body in the Philippines remains to be seen. The Philippine Coast Guard is a law-enforcement body so its independence is questionable, and there remains the issue of whether its finding can be passed to a court whose purpose is to establish liability, as required under current Philippine legislation but contrary to the IMO code.

Most importantly, if the IMO code is followed, the resulting report must be publicly available which is not a current requirement in the Philippines.

The international maritime investigation community, many of whom are barred by law from collaborating with a Philippine investigation will be watching closely.

See also:

Official Gazette

USS Guardian Not Warned Before Grounding

USS Guardian And The Ghost Islands – Human Error Moved Reef






Jan 192013


USS Guardian - thought the reef was eight nautical miles away

USS Guardian – thought the reef was eight nautical miles away

With a US Navy investigation underway to assess the circumstances surrounding the USS Guardian grounding that occurred in Philippine waters at 02.25 on 17 January local time there are lessons already to be learned: Charts are not infallible even if they are on screen and it is not wise to navigate to fine tolerances with the aid of GPS when the underlying data is less accurate than the GPS.

An inaccurate chart is not a defence – not bumping into bits of ground remains the master’s responsibility.

Much of the Philippine waters have not be surveyed for 50 years or more, an issue highlighted when the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior also grounded on Tubbataha Reef in 2005. The chart in use showed the reef 1.5 miles from where it actually was.

The digital chart aboard USS Guardian, an Avenger-class mine countermeasures vessel, showed a position about eight nautical miles in error. At the time of the grounding the vessel was attempting passage through a channel just half that width.

Many Philippine charts have not been re-surveyed in some 80 years. Transferring this aged data to an electronic chart does not increase its accuracy. The current NGA chart for Tubbataha reef appears to be the 1986 edition, based on Philippine charts of 1975 and earlier.

According to a source in the Philippine Coastguard “With the 1940 or 42 charts by NAMRIA, there might really be a problem with  that’s why we are advised to at least have a difference of Three nautical miles from the shoreline, we have to assume that there is one nautical miles changes in the chart already”.

NAMRIA tells Maritime Accident Casebook that the last hydrographic and topographic survey covering Tubbataha Reef was conducted in 2006 using single beam echosounder for the hydrographic data, 2008 is the latest hydrographic survey using multibeam echosounders. The chart was first published last May 2009 and the reef is marked as a restricted area on current charts.

On Friday, 18 January, the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, NGA provided the US Navy with preliminary findings of a review on Digital Nautical Charts (DNC) that contain inaccurate navigation data and may have been a factor in the Guardian grounding.

This followed the realisation by NGA that there might be a potential inaccuracy regarding the Tubbataha Reef digital chart. NGA has reviewed data from more than 150,000 square nautical miles in the surrounding area and found no additional errors.

The incident may also lead to a review of the $30m 2006 joint hydrographic survey agreement between the US Navy and the Philippines after nine years of negotiations. The project was to use advanced sonar technology to map shipping lanes, harbors, and ports throughout the Philippines. However an incident involving a Philippine Maritime Police Patrol vessel firing warning shots against a US Navy survey vessel in January 2008 led to US Navy surveys being restricted to within four nautical miles of the coast.

The project was expected to generate some $300m in commercial value.

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