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The passengers on board a 165m cruise ship were looking forward to visiting a small fishing town located a short way up a narrow river. The fine weather was ideal for exploring the town’s quaint shops and winding streets.

The harbour authority and the cruise company had planned the port entry and the ship’s anchorage well in advance, taking into account the ship’s draught, length, manoeuvring characteristics and the expected tidal conditions. However, ships over 150m visited the port infrequently and the harbour pilot, who was also the harbourmaster, had little experience handling large ships in the river.

After joining the ship in the river’s estuary,
the pilot discussed the entry with the master. The exchange included topics such as the meteorological conditions and the expected effects of the tidal stream and river current. The ship’s speed was then increased to 6kts and the pilot took the con.

Initially all went well, with the ship negotiating the first planned turn without difficulty. During the next turn, which was to starboard, the effects of the tidal stream were not as expected and the ship turned wider than intended. It started to head towards shallows on the river’s south bank.
In response, the pilot increased the rudder angle, which resulted in the cruise ship’s
stern swinging rapidly to port. Although the pilot then requested the bow thruster, he
was quickly advised by the captain that the ship was going too fast for the thruster to be effective. The pilot continued to try to regain control, but the cruise ship’s stern hit a yacht moored in the navigable channel. The pilot used astern power, but this did not prevent the cruise ship’s stern from hitting a further two moored yachts (see figure). At this point, the captain realized the pilot was in difficulty, and took the con. He then slowed the ship and used the bow thruster to manoeuvre clear of the moorings before continuing to the intended anchorage.

Damage to the yachts was superficial. The position of the yacht’s moorings, which reduced the width of the navigable channel by 30%, had not been shared with the cruise ship’s manager during the initial planning of the visit, or with the master during the master/ pilot exchange.

The Lessons
1. A port entry, especially one involving
a large ship, is a complex operation
that requires detailed planning and communication. Unforeseen or unplanned changes can take everyone by surprise, and potentially have catastrophic consequences. Time spent planning is never wasted, as the old saying goes “fail to plan, plan to fail”! 

2. Developing a ‘shared mental model’ between a pilot and a ship’s bridge team helps to ensure that all those involved in a ship’s entry or departure are aware of the intended plan. As a result, unintended and/or unavoidable deviations from the plan can be quickly detected, and timely interventions and challenges made where appropriate.
3. Pilots are usually experienced seafarers used to handling ships of all shapes and sizes. However, they are not born this way, which inevitably means that at some point a pilot will be on a ship with unfamiliar manoeuvring and handling characteristics. As many pilots are strangers, politely enquiring about their experience would seem a logical precaution to take, particularly when entering unfamiliar, confined and potentially congested waters.

Source: MAIB