No. 02-04: Winter season in northern Baltic Sea
The 2002/2003 winter season was the worst on record since the winter of 1987. Our statistics appear to indicate that the preceding relatively mild winters may have lulled seafarers into a false sense of security.
Loss Prevention Circular No. 02-04
The 2002/2003 winter season was the worst on record since the winter of 1987. Our statistics appear to indicate that the preceding relatively mild winters may have lulled seafarers into a false sense of security. How this and future winters will unfold remains to be seen, but shipowners and operators would be well advised to ensure that their seagoing personnel are well aware of the planning, preparation and care required while navigating in ice.
Approximately 30% of all averages which occurred in connection with navigation in ice in the Baltic Sea during the past winter season, were collision cases. This is a substantial number and leads us to again remind shipowners of the issues involved.
The most common cause was collision between vessels in an ice convoy. Under normal circumstances blame has been apportioned equally between the colliding vessels. Otherwise, in determining liability, emphasis was placed on:
- How the watch keeper had been alerted by the vessels involved,
- How vessels ahead and abaft had been warned by the vessel which was stuck or slowed down in the ice,
- Distances kept between the vessels, and of course
- The ice situation in general.
In some collision cases, and in particular when an assisting icebreaker is involved, the case may be settled on a “knock-for-knock” basis. This means that both parties cover their own cost of repairs. The same principle may also be used or agreed upon between the parties, when two merchant vessels, assisting each other when navigating in ice, are involved in a collision. However, the above “knock-for-knock” practice is only used in “standard” cases caused by difficult ice conditions. If gross negligence or other similar causes are involved, other methods of apportioning blame will be used.
Analysis of the collision cases shows that the vessels involved are very often blamed for not complying with the applicable rules; The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (COLREGS 72), and the Finnish/Swedish “Rules for Winter Navigation”.
The Finnish/Swedish “Rules for Winter Navigation” are endorsed by Germany, Denmark and the Baltic States. In addition to directing navigation during the winter period in Finland and Sweden, these Rules set the standard for ice navigation in the Baltic, including navigation in ice in conjunction with icebreakers in the majority of the Baltic.
For further details about the “Rules for Winter Navigation” please see the Finnish Maritime Authority’s home page at http://www.fma.fi/e/functions/icebreaking/
Navigation when the vessel is part of a convoy is a risky operation, and the crew must be alert and maintain a proper lookout at all times. It is essential that all relevant regulations are properly complied with. Breach of COLREGS 72, especially the below mentioned rules, appears to be the most common cause of collisions:
– Rule 5 – Proper look out
– Rule 6 – Safe speed
– Rule 7 – Risk of collision
– Rule 8 – Action to avoid collision
– Rule 13 – Overtaking vessel
– Rule 17 – Action by stand-on vessel
– Rule 27 (a) (i) – vessel not under command (stopped) to show two red lights
The Finnish/Swedish “Rules for Winter Navigation” require
(a) Strict watch keeping both visually and especially by radar and immediate notification by VHF radio when loss of speed is experienced.
(b) In case of stoppage:
– Immediate signalling in case of failure of other means of communication
– Immediate engine manoeuvring
– Immediate rudder manoeuvring
When navigating in ice or in the vicinity of ice, shipowners must ensure that their onboard personnel are well aware of the regulations governing such navigation. Furthermore, masters must be advised of the requirement to ensure proper compliance with the governing regulations and also of the utmost care required in order to promote safe navigation.
This circular has been produced with the valuable assistance of former Hull Claims Manager, Captain John Hammarén in Finland.