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Hull and machinery incident – Voyage planning and grounding


A grounding with valuable learning points.


The incident
During preparation for departure from a loading port, the 2nd Officer of a cargo vessel was assigned a number of different tasks. Once the loading was completed he was called on deck to assist with the bunkering, search for stowaways and carry out draught checks. However, he did not have sufficient time to complete the full passage plan for the voyage ahead. In the time available, he prepared a table of waypoints for the route and entered the waypoint coordinates into the GPS receivers. A quick brief took place prior to departure, focusing only on the upcoming pilotage and tug operation.


During the first morning of the voyage the 2nd Officer replaced the coastal chart with the overview chart, which covers the Pacific Ocean, and marked the route on the chart and on the plotting sheet. He noted that between two of the waypoints the course line passed close to a small group of islands some days into the voyage. The planned passing distance was assessed by the 2nd Officer to be 10 NM, which was believed to be an acceptable passing distance. On the local overview chart the course line almost touched the islands because of the small scale.


On the fourth evening of the voyage the Master completed his Night Order Book in the usual manner, without any reference to the approaching islands. The positions marked on the plotting sheet showed that the vessel was making progress in accordance with the plan.  During the 2nd Officer’s night watch, he suddenly observed a large echo on the radar screen on the port bow. He assumed this had to do with the weather forecasted on the weather routing map and suggested to the AB present that they could expect some heavy rain showers. Binoculars were used to verify the information, but it was too dark to see anything. The 2nd Officer noted that the assumed rain shower was passing clear down the port side at a distance of about 5 NM. No further investigations were made.


The next OOW, the Chief Officer, arrived on the bridge, read the Master’s Night Orders, checked the GPS and noted from the cross-track error display that the vessel was on the course line. He then sat on the pilot’s chair immediately adjacent to the radar display. It was very dark and he was unable to assess the visibility. Before stepping down, the 2nd Officer informed him about the course and which waypoint was up next. The small group of islands and the presumed rain shower observation were not mentioned.


The Chief Officer then glanced at the radar screen and saw a large echo very close ahead. He assumed it was generated by a heavy storm cloud. He then felt the ship hit something. The vessel had hit an island and had run aground. The ship had grounded on the only group of islands present within hundreds of miles.


The financial impact of the incident was severe for owners and insurers. The incident led to the total loss of the ship and cargo, the escape of the ship’s bunkers and possible damage to the environment as a result, but, fortunately, no loss of life.


Lessons learned
The officer of the watch was following on the plotting sheet and did not consult the BA chart which was available on board. No-go areas were not marked on the plotting sheet. The course took the vessel directly over the island. A number of contributory factors were present, but this article will focus on “passage planning and positioning” and “bridge resource management”.


Passage planning and positioning
When the 2nd Officer had initially drawn the course line on the overview chart, he made an error in plotting the waypoint that was close to the island. This resulted in a course line indicating that the vessel would clear the group of islands by about 10 NM. If the correct waypoint had been plotted, the resulting course line would have indicated that it passed directly over one of the islands. No-go areas were not marked on the chart. Determining such a small passing distance on an overview chart was unsatisfactory and did not conform to the company’s instructions of clearing distances when a vessel was in open waters.


Although the bridge team was aware that they would be passing close to some islands, they were not aware of when that event would take place. The marking of critical areas on the charts would have assisted the bridge team in maintaining good situational awareness of the hazards ahead.


Both the 2nd Officer and Chief Officer were not aware that their vessel was heading towards the group of islands. This was because there was no indication on the plotting chart to alert them of the dangers ahead. It appeared that the bridge team was focused on following the GPS track superimposed on the radar screen instead of monitoring the vessel’s position in relation to surrounding hazards. Some hours before the grounding, the 2nd Officer noticed a large defined echo on the radar screen which he failed to identify or investigate as a possible land mass. This important information was not passed to the Chief Mate and neither did the Chief Mate notice it on the radar screen.


Bridge resource management
Several companies have adopted the concept of bridge resource management to address performance variability.


Bridge resource management is often defined as effective management and use of all resources, human and technical, available to the bridge team. The objective is to ensure the planning and execution of a safe passage. One of the most important aspects of bridge resource management is its potential protection against human error. Bridge resource management is not limited or confined to the execution of the passage plan, but is intended to be applied throughout the entire process, including the planning of the passage.


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