In the open ocean and in darkness, a large private vessel (49m) was making way at about 11.5 knots on a heading of 099 degrees. The proper lights were lit and the AIS was correctly programmed. A cargo vessel was noted on radar about 60 degrees off the port bow and was acquired as an ARPA target. The vessel was observed to be heading roughly SSW, at approximately 202 degrees, at about 13 knots. When the vessels were approximately 10 nm from each other, and now in sight, the private vessel received a VHF radio call from the cargo vessel requesting that the former alter course so that the cargo vessel could stand on.
The Master of the private vessel took the call, politely declining and suggesting the cargo vessel alter course to starboard, as per the collision regs; the radar was showing a CPA of less than one nm. They were in open seas with no other conflicting traffic.
About five minutes later, with other vessel at five nm, the Master of the private vessel called the cargo vessel to warn that the CPA was still less than one nm. The OOW of the cargo vessel replied that he ‘was watching’. At about two and one-half nm the cargo vessel made a significant alteration to starboard and passed about one nm astern of the private vessel.
A game of ‘chicken’ on the open seas is never a good idea and, if pushed to the limit, the smaller vessel will always lose. The unprofessional attitude of the cargo vessel’s OOW is evident here; at 10 nm he was aware of the crossing situation with a small CPA but he apparently assumed that since he was on the larger vessel he could ‘bully’ the smaller vessel into changing course instead of assuming his responsibilities under the collision regulations. This unprofessional attitude is again evident by the lack of proper communication.
The OOW of the cargo vessel never confirmed his actions, saying vaguely he was ‘watching’; and only within minutes of the CPA did he abruptly alter course to starboard without warning. At 10 nm, an alteration of course of 30 degrees to starboard for a relatively brief period by the cargo vessel would have cleared the situation with minimal consequences to their schedule.
Editor’s note: In any encounter where the behaviour of one vessel appears ambiguous or counter to the Colregs, it is most important that clear, unambiguous communication be used and a mutually acceptable agreement be reached in a timely manner in accordance with the Colregs.