Real Life Incident: Bottom Touch While Under Pilotage

In good weather and in darkness, a tanker took on two pilots for port entry in the early morning hours (03:00). According to reports, there was a perfunctory Master/pilot exchange after which one of the pilots took the con. The inbound passage plan had been prepared by the crew and the ECDIS Charts marked with “No Go” areas and parallel indexing.

However, the actual pilot boarding area differed from the planned one hence, after pilot boarding, the vessel was not on the planned route – they were significantly to the east of the leading lights that indicated the safe entry course.

Soon after the MPX, the Master noticed that the vessel was approaching the 10 metre shallow contour and reminded the pilot that vessel’s maximum static draft was 10.6 m.

Bottom Touch While Under Pilotage
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The pilot replied, ‘Yes Captain’ and soon after ordered ‘port 10’ followed quickly by ‘hard to port’. The helmsman confirmed both orders. Then the orders ‘midship’, ‘steady’, ‘port 10’ and ‘port 20’ were given in rapid succession by the pilot and were confirmed accordingly by the helmsman.

Almost immediately a strong vibration was felt throughout the ship and the vessel started swinging to starboard. The pilot ordered ‘Stop the engine’. The bridge team now knew they had touched bottom and the depth sounder was turned on. It showed 1m.

Tanks were sounded and water ingress was discovered in the port side ballast tanks.

Lessons learned

  • Once again we have the classic question of when and how to challenge a pilot. In this case the Master warned the pilot but it appears this was already too late. Being too far to the east of the port entry leading lights from the beginning was a red flag that should have been resolved before the vessel came close to the breakwaters.


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