Real Life Accident: Ship Hits Navigation Beacon While Disembarking Pilot

After leaving the port under pilotage, the outward transit of about three and a half hours was without incident. The Master and the pilot were on the bridge throughout but without a helmsman. The vessel was, for the most part, on autopilot. As the vessel approached the pilot disembarkation area, the pilot requested to reduce speed to seven knots for his transfer to the pilot vessel. He indicated he would disembark north of the nearby beacon, which is sometimes a local practice, rather than at the official pilot disembarkation spot south of this same beacon. The Master was somewhat surprised but agreed to the pilot’s request.

The pilot left the bridge, leaving the Master alone. The pilot boat was having difficulty coming alongside in the waves so the pilot, now on deck, requested the Master change course to 180° and then to 160° to make a lee. Once the vessel was on a course of 160°, and as the pilot transfer took place, the Master went out to the bridge wing to better view the transfer. Once the pilot was on the pilot boat, and while the Master still on the bridge wing, he was called by both the pilot boat and crew and informed that the vessel was very close to the beacon.

Representation Image - Photograph by Sergio Ferrazzano
Representation Image – Photograph by Sergio Ferrazzano

The Master returned to the wheelhouse but was unable to manoeuvre the loaded vessel quickly enough to avoid a collision with the beacon. The vessel made contact with the structure at a speed of about five knots. Two tanks were ruptured on the port side and the vessel took a list. The vessel then proceeded back to port.

Lessons learned

  • The Master allowed himself to be alone on the bridge during a critical time and at a critical place. He unwittingly placed himself in a situation that was prone to single point failure.
  • By concentrating on one task (pilot disembarkation) to the detriment of another (navigation), the Master lost his situational awareness.
  • A complete pilotage plan should be discussed and approved – in this case the Master was surprised that the pilot was to disembark north of the beacon.


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One Comment

  1. biggest question which arises is where was the other watch keeping officers. Presume the duty officer was disembarking the pilot, but what about the mate ? It all comes down to poor time management. Violation of work and rest hours is much acceptable than having a navigational failure !

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