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When ships collide, the cost of repairing damage to two (or more) sophisticated and valuable ships and of damage and/or loss of their cargoes, bunkers, oil spills, etc., can run into millions of dollars. When personal injuries occur and/or lives are lost, the figures involved become even greater. We are perhaps not experiencing more collision claims in number than before; however, costs for collision claims are becoming higher, so the maritime industry needs to put greater efforts in finding the underlying causes.

Claims analysis for a ten-year period (1992/2002) indicates that only 3.1 per cent of all P&I claims in number related to collisions. However, 12 per cent of total P&I claims in value for the same ten-year period (1992/2002) related to collisions.

Common underlying causes of collisions
One might assume that most collisions take place in dense traffic areas under difficult circumstances, which could include poor visibility, equipment failure, etc. However, contrary to general belief, case studies have indicated that most collisions happen due to negligence and failure on part of the bridge team in carrying out basic navigational duties. Recent reports on a number of major casualties suggest that simple principles of bridge watch-keeping at sea were not being followed and that human error was found to be the main underlying cause of at least 68 per cent of all collisions. The common underlying causes were found to be as follows:
– Insufficient watch-keeping.
– Lack of situational awareness.
– Failure to set priorities – lack of positive action.
– Preoccupation with administrative tasks.
– Failure to communicate intentions (officer/master/pilot).
– Lack of assertiveness – failure to challenge incorrect decisions (officer/master/pilot).
– Failure to comply with standard procedures and international regulations.
– Failure to utilise available data and resources.
– Lack of training – “human-technology” interface.

Thegraph shows that 3 per cent (in number) of all P&I claimsin the period 1992 to 2002 were related to collisions.

The graph shows that 12 per cent (in value) of all P&I claims in the period 1992 to 2002 were related to collisions.

Case studies have indicated that equipment failure (such as but not limited to engine and/or steering failure) was found to be the underlying cause of at least 20 per cent of all collisions. However, recent reports on a number of collisions and casualties suggest that computerisation of bridges (integrated bridges, GPS, ECDIS, etc.) may have been one of the contributing underlying causes of collisions.

There are numerous recent examples whereby mariners have made expensive and even tragic mistakes despite having been provided with all this technology. Investigations indicated that the “human-technology” interface revealed many shortcomings.

The common underlying shortcomings in the human-technology interface were found to be as follows:
– Failure to operate equipment correctly.
– Failure to understand limitations of systems or equipment.
– Lack of awareness of the “distraction” factor.

Once again, failure on the part of ship management in bridging the human-technology interface was found to be the main underlying cause.

The graph shows that equipment failure accounts for 20 per cent of all collisions and that human error accounts for 68 per cent.
 Collision Regulations1 disregarded
A recent international survey2 was carried out with 452 respondents representing a good cross-section of sea staff, training staff and examiners from 31 countries to discover the norms, problems and influences which affect decisions on the bridge. Respondents were invited to give their opinion on a number of questions. One of the questions was the respondent’s opinion on reasons of manoeuvres contrary to the Collision Regulations. The replies are summarised in the table below.


According to the late Captain François Baillod, the initiator of the UK Marine Accident Reporting Scheme (MARS), 74 per cent of reported incidents related to uncertainty, violations and disregard for the Collision Regulations. As can be noted from the table below, answers from the 452 respondents confirm current suspicions engendered by MARS and other sources that the Collision Regulations are often misunderstood, misinterpreted or just plain ignored and disregarded on frequent occasions. Despite improvements in navigational aids and technology and of training through various STCW3 conventions, collisions still occur. The general consensus is that the Collision Regulations are not being adhered to and are disregarded all too frequently.

1  International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972 (as amended).
2  Survey carried out by Captain Roger Syms, of The Nautical Institute.
3  Standards of training, certification and watch-keeping for seafarers.

Investigations of recent cases suggest that despite improvements in technology and of training through various STCW conventions, ISM, etc., a majority of collisions continue to occur due to a failure of the bridge team in following simple principles of bridge watch-keeping and violations of the Collision Regulations. The key to a safe and efficient ship is a well-trained crew, teamwork and resource management. Most shipowners are taking steps to enhance bridge procedures by ensuring their officers and crew receive on-going training in the operation of their vessels as well as other industry platforms such as Teamwork & Bridge Resource Management courses. Training is a proactive approach to safety. It requires the identification, analysis and mitigation of hazards before they can affect the safe operation of the vessel. In the years to come, maritime technology development will require a blending of advanced computing and simulation-based technology, concepts of dynamic analysis, of risk and reliability and of human capabilities and behaviour.

Any comments to this article can be e-mailed to the Gard News Editor.

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