The report in question found that the overtaking cargo vessel’s officer of the watch was alone on the bridge and had not seen the tug or tow as he did not keep a visual lookout or monitor the radar. Instead, he relied solely on Automatic Identification System (AIS) information for collision avoidance, which neither the tug nor tow were transmitting. The report also states that the officer was relatively inactive throughout his watch and did not take note of safety broadcasts issued by Dover Coastguard, which included information regarding the position and movement of tug and its tow.
“This is another classic example of catastrophic bridge watchkeeping,” says Adrian McCourt, managing director of Watkins Superyachts. “AIS has undergone mission creep from what was a vehicle for others to be able to identify traffic, to an all-singing, all-dancing substitute for common sense and compliance with the collision regulations. Indeed, IMO has said that, ‘the potential of AIS as an anti-collision device is recognised and AIS may be recommended as such a device in due time’."
“The officer of the watch of the overtaking vessel was alone on the bridge and did not see the towed vessel as he closed in on it,” McCourt evaluates. “The report also describes him as ‘relatively inactive’ throughout his watch, and VHF broadcasts went unheeded. It would appear that as well as failing to keep an effective visual lookout, he did not allow radar to intrude on his world either, relying solely on AIS information. Unfortunately, neither tug nor tow were transmitting on AIS.”
“AIS has undergone mission creep from what was a vehicle for others to be able to identify traffic, to an all-singing, all-dancing substitute for common sense and compliance with the collision regulations."
“The officer’s actions appear in keeping with an apparent casual attitude to navigational risk,” concludes McCourt. “This event took place in the world’s busiest waterway, nevertheless the master’s night orders make two references to the forthcoming Bay of Biscay crossing but only a vague reference to traffic with an instruction to ‘always comply with the Colreg’ (sic). Is there anytime a master does not want his navigators to comply with the collision regulations? The MAIB rightly emphasises the need for navigation audits, and it is clear that intervention of some form was overdue here.
“The officer’s actions post-collision also make alarming reading. After a brief comment to the coastguard (in response to their request for a situation report) explaining that ‘the tug was not showing any signal’, and a cursory reduction in speed, an increase to 17 knots without checking for damage, offering assistance, contacting the coastguard or even informing the master was an irresponsible and shameful act. There are criticisms and observations of navigation lights, none of which relieves the officer of the watch of the overtaking vessel of his responsibility to keep a safe lookout.”
The full MAIB report can be read here.