In darkness and early morning hours, a container vessel departed port with a pilot on board. The Master and the OOW were also on the bridge. At that same time, a tanker was inbound in ballast. The cargo tanks were not gas-freed and there was no inert gas system on board. Both vessels were due to arrive in the area where the compulsory pilotage limit is located at around the same time. The plan was to have the pilot on the outbound container vessel change to the inbound tanker near that location.
Once the container vessel arrived at the compulsory pilotage line, the Master, on the advice of the pilot, began reducing speed prior to the pilot’s disembarkation. The pilot called up the inbound tanker to inform them of this.
Before disembarking, the pilot instructed the Master ‘’…Nine knots it should be, and you change course to 156°. I will go down. All the best, bye bye.’’ The pilot then left the bridge with the OOW, going down to where the able seaman (the lookout) had rigged the pilot ladder. The Master was alone on the bridge, steering using autopilot. He went on to the port bridge wing to monitor the pilot’s disembarkation.
Later, the Master of the container ship stated that he understood the tanker was to wait at the pilot boarding point just over 1nm to the south; his understanding was that there would be no problem in meeting the inbound tanker port to port.
Meanwhile on the tanker, the Master was also alone on the bridge, as both the OOW and the lookout were down by the pilot ladder preparing to receive the pilot. He kept the vessel somewhat to starboard in the fairway and altered speed so that the pilot would be able to board outside the compulsory pilotage line, but after having passed the pilot boarding point. He saw that the container vessel was reducing speed and turning to port. The Master felt that both the situation and the distance were normal at this stage.
By the time the pilot had boarded the pilot boat, the container vessel was heading 150°. The distance between the vessels was now 0.5nm.
The inbound tanker’s Master called the pilot boat:
Tanker Master: ‘As soon as I am clear of the container vessel I will come a little to port in order to get on the leeward side.’
Pilot: ‘Yes, that’s fine.’
Tanker Master: ‘He has not come back to his heading yet. We have to wait a little.’
The pilot, still on the pilot boat, then called the Master of the container ship.
Pilot: ‘Do you come back to southerly course now?’
Container ship Master: ‘Yes, I will go back, but I am very close here to the other vessel. I will just turn around.‘
Pilot: ‘Yes, that’s my point; you are getting very close so you should go starboard now.’
There was silence from the Master for about five seconds.
Container ship Master: ‘Yes, I will do that. One moment, I will just go ahead a little bit and then I turn to the south.’
Pilot: ‘Yes, but you plan to go astern of the tanker, astern of tanker, correct?’
Container ship Master: ‘That’s correct.’ [This is not heard on the VHF channel, but is heard on container vessel’s VDR.]
Radar recordings show that container vessel initially turned a little to starboard after the pilot had disembarked. According to the Master, he perceived the proximity situation with tanker as critical and decided to turn to port instead, increasing the speed at the same time, choosing a starboard to starboard meeting instead of the port to port because, in his opinion, the situation now called for this action. The Master on the tanker, who also was alone on the bridge, noticed that the container ship was turning to port, which he had not been expecting. The speed (7.4kt) had been set for pilot embarkation. He switched over to manual steering, set the engine to full astern and the bow thruster to full port in order to counteract the vessel’s natural turn to starboard due to the propellers’ turning moment.
Meanwhile, on the container vessel, the OOW arrived back on the bridge and the Master told him to take the helm. The tanker continued running its engine full astern and the bow propeller full to port while the container vessel increased speed and passed just ahead of the tanker, at about 100m.
- If you change the agreed plan, make sure you tell the other party. In this case, the Master of the container vessel changed the plan without notice and only the vigilance and actions of the tanker Master averted disaster.
- Under-manning may leave the bridge with insufficient persons at critical times.
Press Release: nautinst.org