Real Life Incident: Too Fast In & Containers Fall Off Ship

The pilot arrived on the bridge and asked for ‘full ahead’. The pilot was using the port side radar, and the chief officer was at the starboard radar to monitor the navigation. The Master operated the telegraph and the helmsman steered the ship manually to pilot’s orders.

The pilot advised that the ship would tie up at berth 15, port side to. Two tugs would be used for berthing, one on the ship’s starboard bow and one on the starboard quarter.

The Master advised the pilot that the ship had a draught of over 15 metres and was ‘very heavy’. About seven minutes later, while inbound, the pilot asked the Master if the ship was ‘good turning’, to which the Master replied ‘She is, but maybe she’s heavy’.

Too fast in, too slow to turn
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The vessel was now making about 13 knots. The main engine was set to half ahead, and then in quick succession slow ahead and dead slow ahead.

As the ship passed through the port entrance at seven knots the pilot ordered ‘slow ahead’ and a berthing tug was made fast forward. Within a minute, with the ship now at 6.3 knots, the pilot ordered port 20°, and then hard to port, followed shortly by port 20°. The pilot then stated aloud ‘It is a problem if I start turn too early’.

The Master replied: ‘I think it is too late’. The pilot immediately ordered hard to port. Within two minutes of initiating the turn to port the pilot requested half ahead and ordered the tug forward to push with full power on the ship’s starboard shoulder and the tug astern to push with full power on the ship’s port quarter.

He also asked the Master to use the bow thruster with full power to port and, 30 seconds later, ordered full ahead. With the ship swinging to port at a rate of 12° per minute, the pilot told the Master ‘All will be good when we attain a rate of turn of 20–25° per minute’. The Master replied ‘She’s very heavy’.

While turning to port, the vessel was also setting laterally to starboard towards the container ship crane at berth 16. The pilot ordered hard to starboard and the Master stated ‘This is no good’. He then telephoned the engine room, advising them to prepare for an emergency.

After several other fruitless manoeuvres, the vessel struck berth 15 at a speed of 5.3 knots, hitting two shore cranes, one of which immediately collapsed. Several containers fell from the ship on to the quay as a result of the impact.

Lessons learned

  • At the very inception of the turn to port, the Master suspected the manoeuvre was not going well, even expressing this to the pilot, yet he did not intervene (see note below). This speaks to how difficult it is to override a seemingly competent pilot. The expectation is ‘This is the pilot’s territory, he knows what he is doing’.
  • The plan was to berth port side to at section 15. Instead, the vessel made heavy contact with the berth on its starboard side. This is a classic case of too much speed for the desired manoeuvre in the given space. If ever in doubt, slow down.


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