It was dark with about 4 miles visibility. A container vessel was on passage. The OOW was accompanied on the bridge by an officer of a different nationality undergoing familiarisation. The OOW decided to alter course to starboard to pass a group of fishing vessels on the port bow. This resulted in a risk of collision with a bulk carrier, which was crossing the container vessel from port to starboard  

The bulk carrier’s OOW called the container vessel on VHF radio and requested the container vessel to pass around the bulk carrier’s stern. The conversation was conducted with the officer undergoing familiarisation in
a language that the container vessel’s OOW did not understand, so he was unaware that the officer had tacitly agreed to the request

After passing the group of fishing vessels, the container vessel’s OOW altered back on to the planned course. The bulk carrier’s OOW, assuming that the container vessel had altered course in response to his request, now also altered course to port with the aim of creating more sea room for the passing manoeuvre. However, this resulted in a continued risk of collision.

The container vessel’s OOW expected the bulk carrier to alter course to starboard. He stated this to his accompanying officer, who then called the bulk carrier’s OOW on VHF radio and requested a port-to-port passing, which the latter reluctantly agreed to. Shortly afterwards, concerned that the bulk carrier did not appear to be altering course, the container vessel’s OOW altered course to starboard.

Although the bulk carrier’s OOW had also altered course to starboard, the avoiding action taken on both vessels was insufficient and taken too late to prevent them from colliding.

There were no resulting injures. However, both vessels sustained serious damage, and about 600 tonnes of heavy fuel oil were spilled
Screen Shot 2016 04 18 at 9.47.34 AM
Damage to containership

The Lessons

 1.    All officers involved in this accident considered that it was appropriate to use VHF radio for collision avoidance. Furthermore, the bulk carrier’s OOW felt that it was appropriate to use VHF radio for negotiating a passing protocol that was contrary to Rule 15 of the COLREGs.

 2.      Following the initial VHF radio communication, the OOW of each vessel was left with different expectations. A significant contributing factor to this misunderstanding was that the conversation on the VHF had been conducted in a language that the container vessel’s OOW did not understand. Furthermore, his accompanying officer’s translation of the conversation was incomplete and did not include what he had tacitly agreed to. 


 3.      By inviting his accompanying officer to communicate on VHF radio on his behalf, the container vessel’s OOW unnecessarily put himself in a position of having to deal with the consequences of those communications, which he did not understand and was unable to control.

4.    The International Chamber of Shipping’s Bridge Procedures Guide recommends against using VHF radio for collision avoidance and warns that, even where vessels have identifed each other, misunderstandings may still arise. In this case, the resulting misunderstandings were not only between the vessels concerned, but also between those on the bridge of the same vessel.

 5.    The use of VHF radio for collision avoidance was unnecessary, was contrary to internationally recognised best practice, and was a signi cant contributing factor to this accident.

Source: MAIB Safety Digest (UK)