Recent maritime accidents have occurred because bridge crew were distracted by communications equipment, or were too reliant on navigation technology. It is clear from accident reports that deck officers must ensure they are not distracted, or too dependent on radar, ecdis and AIS information, to prevent groundings and collisions.
These were the key messages from the latest digest of ship accidents and incidents from the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch. Over the last six months, it has reported on a number of accidents involving cargo vessels, tankers and passenger ships that have grounded or collided while the officer of the watch was distracted by technology.
It is a sad fact that ship operators have not learnt lessons from past accidents, and the same issues continue to emerge. The MAIB continues to encourage officers to take more notice of the view from the bridge window. In his report introduction, MAIB chief inspector of marine accidents, Steve Clinch, said seafarers should take a cautionary approach to operations, and ask themselves ‘what can go wrong?’ to anticipate a problem. Bridge personnel should reconsider actions, such as a course change, before implementing them to prevent accidents.
In a separate commentary, Ian McNaught, deputy master of the General Lighthouse Authority, Trinity House, highlighted the problems of not keeping a proper bridge watch. He said technology had led to seafarers taking less cautious routes, leading to more groundings and collisions. He said officers of the watch can become distracted by VHF communications and safety and navigation messages, or too reliant on radar, ecdis, AIS, etc. “It is quite clear that ships are being taken closer to danger, and that passage plans are not as cautious as they once were,” he says in the MAIB report.
He encourages seafarers to look out of the window to prevent ships from colliding with Trinity House’s aids to navigation and lightvessels, as well as other ships. “Doing so will give them the best view of the situation around the ship, and that feeling of spatial and situational awareness that will help them make the best decisions to ensure a safe passage, backed up by the information on screen.”
To illustrate the issue of distraction, MAIB reported that a passenger vessel struck a bridge at eight knots in the UK because the officer of the watch was distracted listening to a VHF radio report on a pier closure. He failed to notice the vessel had veered towards the bridge, and the crew were unable to warn the passengers, causing injuries to people on board.
In another example, MAIB said a tanker grounded on a sandbank during a coastal passage because of errors in positioning the vessel. This led to the navigator missing course changes and a strong tidal stream driving the ship onto the sand bar. In another case, a cargo vessel grounded on a European beach when the master lost control of the vessel and struck a berth. The MAIB highlighted that passage planning should be berth-to-berth to ensure every aspect of the voyage is properly assessed, and each approach should have contingency plans.
It is clear that bridge technology is still being misused and can become a hindrance to safe navigation. Bridge officers should not get distracted by communications equipment and should continue looking out of the window, as well as checking navigation screens. Otherwise they will be involved in the next shipping accident, and anonymous star of a future MAIB report.