The Confidential Reporting Programme for Aviation and Maritime (CHIRP) actively encourages seafarers to maximise the number of reports of near misses occurring during operations, thereby increasing their learning from the reviews of such reports. In their latest feedback, CHIRP received a report from a concerned officer of a 242m commercial tanker travelling through the North Sea Deep Water Route. The reported near miss highlights some lessons for those in bridge operations but also raises the concerns of the reporter over a decreasing quality of bridge training and operations across the maritime sector.

“Due to dense fog were proceeding at 11.2 knots,” the reporter explains. “From the East there was an approaching vessel ‘A’ on a collision course. Collision was imminent and we called them to ask to go astern as per collision rules. They refused and told us that it was too late, saying that they would go ahead of us, crossing our bow. We could easily see that this was not possible as they only had 8.7 knots speed so our only option was to stop the engine and let our speed go down. Finally, they changed their course more to port. If we had not stopped our engine, they never would have passed our bow.”

CHIRP then contacted the Officer of the Watch (OOW) on vessel ‘A’ who recalled the incident and reviewed the available evidence and testimonies. “At a previous Maritime Advisory Board (MAB) meeting, a comment was made that exercises on the ship simulator, show that navigators are sometimes reluctant to make a large alteration to starboard to keep clear of a vessel on or near to their starboard beam,” CHIRP states. “This appears to be such a case.”

“The MAB reviewed the statements from both ships and they noted a number of inconsistencies between the reports from each ship, most notably one ship claims to be in dense fog and other having clear visibility. However, the statement from the OOW on the ship ‘A’ reveals he saw red lights on his starboard side and therefore he was the crossing vessel and should have taken early avoiding action.”

CHIRP then replied to the operators of the vessel ‘A’ and advised them that based on the evidence they provided, the board is of the opinion; “The OOW should have complied with the Collision Regulations and taken early and decisive action and that the OOW should have called the master when the close quarter’s situation appeared to be imminent.” It has also advised that the management company should undertake OOW training in order to improve the level of undertaking of the collision regulations and should consider the adequacy of their audition of bridge operations.

"Almost everyday we see and meet ships where people do not even know the ‘Rules of the Road’ or even basic seamanship skills."

But the reporter believes that the incident is representative of an emerging issue in the maritime industry. “It has been clear to me for some time that professionalism on ships bridges is lower than ever,” he comments. “Since STCW came in force we have seen worse and worse quality people working on ship bridges. Many pilots see exhausted masters who have been on bridges for days, as they can’t let the mates alone. It’s unbelievable how people vary with the same license from the same training requirements in schools. Almost everyday we see and meet ships where people do not even know the ‘Rules of the Road’ or even basic seamanship skills.

“The International Maritime Organisation, with government authorities, should exercise controls on how these licenses are issued. One must be extremely careful, as most probably there are people with a very poor knowledge of navigation on the other bridge and to keep well clear all of other vessels. We see things more and more every day and there is no end in this process unless somebody does something about it. Now in the ECDIS world, the game is going to get even worse.”

The conclusions that the reporter has drawn from the incident are opinionated and not directly related to the actual event in question. But they reflect a common anxiety in the industry that advancements in bridge technology could be impacting navigational skills needed by crew. Is this something that is also being felt in the superyacht industry? The Crew Report would be interested to hear thoughts in the comment boxes below.