Bad communications over radio was a key factor in causing a ship collision in the English Channel, according to accident investigators. The UK Government’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) discovered that bridge teams on a tanker and a bulk carrier had problems communicating during an overtaking manoeuvre in the Dover Strait on 1 July 2017.
A collision between two Hong Kong-registered ships could have been avoided if crew on both ships were able to communicate more effectively over very high frequency (VHF) radio.
2013-built bulk carrier, Huayang Endeavour, and 2011-built oil tanker, Seafrontier collided five miles from the Sandettie Bank.
Both vessels were damaged in the collision but were able to proceed to nearby ports for damage assessment, while there were no injuries or pollution.
The MAIB investigation identified confusion on both ship bridges as the bridge teams held conflicting views as to what had been agreed regarding Huayang Endeavour overtaking 48,580 dwt Seafrontier.
“Subsequently, Seafrontier’s bridge team did not check for sea room astern before altering course, leading to a close quarter situation between the two vessels,” MAIB said in a report into the accident.
Fatigue was also identified as a factor in the collision. MAIB said Seafrontier’s master had been on the bridge for more than 14 hours “and was probably suffering from fatigue, which was likely to have had an adverse effect on his decision making and reaction times.”
Another factor was that Huayang Endeavour’s bridge team did not complete effective long-range scanning, which is required by IMO’s Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (Colregs).
“The use of VHF to resolve the situation was inappropriate as it did not allow sufficient time for effective action to be taken,” MAIB said. Investigators also identified that language issues led to unclear messages and failure of the bridge teams to create and enact a shared overtaking plan.
There were errors during the manoeuvre as Seafrontier’s bridge team did not monitor Huayang Endeavour’s movements after the VHF conversation. Seafrontier’s master “did not check for sea room before altering course and was unaware of the bulk carriers actual position”.
In response to this accident and subsequent internal investigations, Huayang Endeavour’s managers have amended procedures for the use of VHF for collision avoidance.
Seafrontier’s managers have taken a number of steps to train its personnel in bridge and crew resource management and reviewed its procedures, MAIB said.
MAIB has called for more emergency towing response in the English Channel and Dover Strait after an accident report published last month into the collision of general cargo ship Saga Sky and rock carrying barge Stema Barge II.