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The incident reported below shows how failure to comply with the Collision Regulations causes collisions that could be avoided.

The Collision Regulations1 (COLREGs) are basic rules to avoid collisions, which are well known by all officers on merchant vessels. Nevertheless, infringement of one or more of the apparently easy-to-follow collision rules is the single most common cause of collisions.

Following are some of the main rules in the COLREGs:
Rule 2 – Navigation in accordance with good seamanship
Rule 5 – Lookout
Rule 6 – Safe speed
Rule 7 – Determination of risk of collision
Rule 8 – Action to avoid collision
Rule 9 – Sailing in narrow channels
Rule 10 – Behaviour of vessels in or near traffic separation schemes
Rule 12 – Actions to be taken when approaching other vessels
Rule 13 – Overtaking
Rule 14 – Head-on situations
Rule 15 – Crossing situation
Rule 16 – Action by give-way vessel
Rule 17 – Action by stand-on vessel

The incident
The following casualty involved two medium-size modern container vessels.

Vessel A departed from her loading port. It was a dark evening but visibility was good. A pilot was on the bridge, together with the master, the third officer and the helmsman. After passing the breakwater the pilot disembarked. The vessel had a course of 095, with a speed of about 8 knots and increasing.

Vessel B was heading towards the area with a course of 353 and a speed of 13.5 knots. Port authorities were informed about the vessel’s ETA. The master entered the bridge approximately one hour before arrival.

Vessel B contacted port radio when entering the area and was informed that vessel A was the only vessel departing the port. From that time vessel A was monitored on the AIS. A bit later vessel B’s course was altered to 334 and the master took over the command from the second officer. At the same time the speed was reduced gradually to slow ahead.

The master of vessel B now observed vessel A visually as she came out from the breakwater. When vessel A was about two miles away, the master of vessel B ordered dead slow ahead and starboard 10.

Vessel B noticed that vessel A was picking up speed about one mile away, and called her up on the VHF. The master of vessel B said that vessel A should alter course to starboard in order to perform a standard port-to-port passing. The master of vessel A said he would pass ahead of vessel B, probably due to the shallow area on vessel A’s starboard side, and asked vessel B to stop the engine and not to alter to starboard. The master of vessel B replied that this was impossible, but received no reply.

The master of vessel B ordered full astern and hard starboard. Vessel A did not notice vessel B before they called him on the VHF. The master of vessel A claimed that he could not turn starboard, that he informed the master of B accordingly, and said that he was picking up speed and would pass ahead of vessel B. The master of vessel B replied that it was not possible to pass ahead of his vessel. The master of vessel A claimed that he had requested vessel B to stop her engines and turn starboard.

The master of vessel A then ordered hard port.

At this time, the collision was unavoidable. Vessel A had a heading of about 060 and a speed of 13.6 knots when the vessels collided. Vessel B had a heading of 340 and a speed of about 8 knots. The angle of blow was about 80. Both vessels suffered significant damage.

The cost of repairs and the loss of income paid by the insurers were in excess of USD 5.5 million. The apportionment of liability was 75/25 against vessel A.

Analysis and lessons learned
Several breaches of the COLREGs caused the collision. The most severe breaches were the following.

This was a crossing situation, and vessel A was the give-way vessel because she had vessel B on her starboard side. According to the rules, she should have taken early evasive manoeuvre(s), for instance by reducing speed, stopping or waiting. Instead, vessel A acted as if she was the stand-on vessel. Vessel A increased the speed to full ahead in order to cross ahead of vessel B. Crossing ahead of another vessel when there is a possibility or probability of collision is not considered to be in accordance with good seamanship.

Vessel A kept the heading and increased the speed. In order to avoid collision vessel A should have taken positive action in ample time and with due regard to the observance of good seamanship. Vessel A changed heading only about one minute prior to the collision, hence not in enough time and not in accordance with good seamanship.

Vessel A did not observe vessel B before being contacted on the VHF. By proper use of lookout and radar, vessel B should have been discovered at an earlier stage.

If vessel A had used its ARPA radar properly, it would have been evident that crossing ahead of vessel B would increase the risk for collision.

Vessel B was the stand-on vessel, but must take its share of the blame for the collision. According to the rules, the stand-on vessel is obliged to maintain her speed and course. However, vessel B had the opportunity to alter course as soon as it became apparent that vessel A was not taking the expected actions. Rather than calling vessel A on the VHF, vessel B had the opportunity to reduce speed earlier. An early starboard manoeuvre most probably would have prevented the collision.

Vessel B had the opportunity to give vessel A more sea room in order to pass port-to-port. There was plenty of sea room for vessel B on her starboard side to stay away from the shore-side on her port side. This is considered a breach of good seamanship.

Lesson learned: following the simple rules of the COLREGs will reduce the number of collisions at sea significantly.

1 Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (COLREGs).

Gard News 185, February/April 2007

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Gard News is published quarterly by Gard AS, Arendal, Norway.