Real Life Accident: Inexperience and Lack of Situational Awareness Lead To Collision Of Two Vessels

A general cargo vessel was making way in a busy traffic separation scheme (TSS). A bulk carrier was abaft the vessel’s starboard beam at a distance of 1.7nm and slowly overtaking.

The OOW of the general cargo saw another vessel forward, 20 degrees off his starboard bow at 3.9nm and with a CPA of 0.1nm. He did not acquire the vessel on the ARPA or use the AIS data to determine the vessel’s name or status. However, he assessed that the vessel was crossing their bow from starboard to port so he judged his vessel was the give way vessel.

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Image Credits:

As it turned out, this was a fishing vessel engaged in fishing, not a crossing vessel. The fishing vessel began to manoeuvre to port to stay away from the commercial traffic but the OOW on the general cargo vessel did not immediately notice this. When he did notice the change of course, he was confused as this did not match his mental picture of a vessel crossing the traffic lane. His response was to continue to alter to starboard, putting the fishing vessel about 30 degrees off his port bow. By now he was becoming unsure of what to do – and in the following two minutes he made several alterations of course to both port and starboard. He was still unaware that this vessel was a fishing vessel that was manoeuvring out of his way.

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Image Credits:

The coast guard TSS services, seeing the movements on radar, became aware that an ambiguous situation was developing and called the OOW of the general cargo vessel. A short conversation ensued and the TSS services inquired if the general cargo vessel was executing a 360 degree turn. Although this was not the OOW’s plan, he replied in the affirmative to TSS services; immediately after this conversation, the OOW selected hand steering and applied 35 degree starboard helm. Since the vessel was equipped with a high lift rudder the rate of turn increased rapidly. He did not realise that the bulk carrier was now about 500m off his starboard beam.

Meanwhile, the bulk carrier’s OOW had also been contacted by the TSS services and after a short conversation this OOW ordered hard port helm. Although he had been monitoring and was now aware that the general cargo was to do a 360degree turn, he did not think this manoeuvre was already underway. He assumed that the general cargo would pass ahead before starting the 360 degree turn. But within seconds he noticed that the cargo vessel was turning quickly towards him so he immediately ordered hard starboard helm. Nonetheless, soon afterwards the two vessels collided.

Image Credits:
Image Credits:

Lessons learned

  • Although the fishing vessel had started to alter course in order to clear the traffic lane and avoid impeding the safe passage of the two larger vessels, this alteration was not seen by the general cargo vessel’s OOW for over five minutes. This implies that the general cargo vessel’s OOW was neither keeping a proper visual lookout, nor effectively using the electronic aids available.
  • The intervention on VHF radio by the coast watch officer was timely, appropriate and well-intended. However, because of the language used, it unintentionally influenced the decision-making of the general cargo vessel’s OOW and prompted him to improvise a 360 degree turn, unwittingly turning towards the bulk carrier.
  • The general cargo vessel’s OOW suffered a complete loss of situational awareness. He was unaware of the proximity of the bulk carrier until the vessels collided.
  • The general cargo vessel’s OOW was very inexperienced, as shown by his inability to make sense of the fishing vessel’s actions and his total loss (or lack) of situational awareness. He had not yet developed sufficient competency to keep a bridge watch in a busy TSS at night by himself.
  • As it turned out, the general cargo vessel’s OOW had been in charge of only 10 bridge watches before the accident and the Master had only known him for about two weeks. It is not known why the Master was sufficiently confident of the OOW’s abilities to entrust him with the bridge watch in such a congested area at night.


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  1. @marinerathens your answer/question shows exactly what was a problem! That’s the lack of knowledge and language barrier! If you’re in TSS, that doesn’t mean that there’s no traffic crossing, etc.! Try to read the whole story once again! The question isn’t what fishing vessel was doing in TSS, but what OOW was doing, where did he get and how he get his COC, what AB was doing, were was captain? There is mass madness, I saw numerous AB’s accepting officer position, without being able to understand some basic things. That is awful, selfish and above all dangerous thing. Compromising the safety of whole crew and vessel, is out of the mind! If you’re unable and insecure, do not accept officer position!
    In same time companies which try to save money and cut cost by employing people with a lack of knowledge and experience are responsible for a large amount of incidents and in the end would eventually lost the money by doing so…

  2. If you don’t know the Rules of the Road ,you shouldn’t be allowed in the wheelhouse.Shame on the Capt.He is solely responsible…Period.

  3. The end was the most important part of the story, why did the Master leave him on watch alone through there? That was poor decision making.

  4. Whenever the vessel is mavigating a Channel more so in a TSS(Traffic Separation Scheme) the Master must be on the Bridge at all times as it is a congested area.. I agree that the OOW lacks situational awareness but the Master of that vessel lacks Command Responsibility, common sense and very complacent..The Master and OOW should be liable for incompetence.

  5. Oow of cargo vessel was not fully aware of the situation and the colreg particularly rule 2b. The oow should have called the attention of the master. On the other hand, master must be on the bridge during passage at the tss (congested area). Also a bridge team work was not implemented.

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