Dense Fog Leads To Collision Of Vessels

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DMAIB has issued a summary report on the collision between the Danish passenger ship EXPRESS 1 and the Polish tour boat BALTIC CONDOR off Rønne on 10 May 2019. Due to the dense fog on the day of the accident, the use of radar was the only way to navigate.

The report found that EXPRESS 1 navigators did at no point observe the boat and could thus not manoeuvre to avoid collision. On BALTIC CONDOR, the crew observed the ship too late to avoid collision.

The incident

On 10 May 2019 at 1026, the high-speed passenger ship EXPRESS 1 sailed routinely from the port of Rønne towards Ystad, Sweden. The visibility had been limited throughout the morning, due to heavy fog, so it was not possible for the ship’s navigators to see the sea surface. Therefore, navigation was carried out exclusively using the ship’s radars and electronic nautical charts.

The ship passed the breakwater at 1032 and began to increase the revolutions to reach the usual service speed of 32-34 knots needed to keep the schedule. 10 minutes after departure, when the ship was 1.65 nm from Rønne Harbour, the crew of the bridge heard a bump and wondered what could have caused the sound.

The master of the ship and the chief officer could not find an echo on the radars to indicate that they could have hit another ship. Shortly after, an AB reported over the radio that some passengers had seen the EXPRESS 1 hit a smaller ship and that a person from that ship had fallen overboard.

The master of the EXPRESS 1 immediately ordered the chief officer to interrupt the voyage and to turn the ship around. At the same time, the ABs were told to prepare the rescue boat. He then called Lyngby Radio and reported that EXPRESS 1 had hit a vessel.

The watchkeeper at the rescue station in Rønne overheard the report on channel 16 and immediately sent a Fast Rescue Boat and the lifeboat MADS JACOBSEN to EXPRESS 1, where they expected the rammed ship to be.

EXPRESS 1 turned around to get back to the collision position to launch their rescue boat, but at the same time the master took care not to get too close, so as not to overrun the ship or the person who had fallen overboard. It was still not possible to find an echo on the radar to indicate the position of the rammed ship.

The FRB reached the EXPRESS 1 first and searched for the rammed ship. Due to the strong fog it was impossible to find by visual search alone. In Rønne Harbour, the port control received the exact position of the rammed ship and passed it on to the rescue service. After that, the FRB and MADS JACOBSEN found the rammed ship.

The crew of the rammed ship had succeeded in getting the person who had fallen overboard back onboard, and the injured person was transferred to land. EXPRESS 1 returned to Rønne Harbour where the ship’s car deck was cleared and the passengers transferred to another ship.

No one was injured on the EXPRESS 1 and the ship only suffered minor damage to the port hull. The ship with which the EXPRESS 1 collided was a Polish tour boat named BALTIC CONDOR, with 12 people onboard.

Probable causes

  • On EXPRESS 1, the navigators did at no point observe BALTIC CONDOR and could thus not manoeuvre to avoid collision. On BALTIC CONDOR, the crew observed EXPRESS 1 too late to effectively avoid collision. Due to the dense fog on the day of the accident, the use of radar was the only way to effectively observe other ships and thereby prevent collision.
  • On the BALTIC CONDOR, the skipper was only briefly present in the wheelhouse due to a malfunction in the ship’s engine compartment and was thus not using the ship’s radar, before the accident occurred. BALTIC CONDOR carried lights signalling that it was not under command. However, this signal was not effective given the visibility conditions on the day of the accident.
  • On EXPRESS 1 there were two navigators on the bridge, but none of them saw the BALTIC CONDOR on the ship’s radar screens.
  • The BALTIC CONDOR was not equipped with an AIS transmitter and was therefore shown only as an echo on the radar, and the display of the echo on the radars’ screens is affected by the characteristics and setting of the radar.
  • The chief officer, who was on duty before the collision, used the ship’s X-band radar. The functioning of X-band radars is affected by fog, and therefore the range and echo display of the X-band radar has probably been impaired. The inadequate change of the X-band radar’s magnetron might have contributed to the impaired display of BALTIC CONDOR’s echo.
  • The master of the ship acted as assistant navigator prior to the collision and used the ship’s S-band radar. This type of radar works better in fog than the X-band radar. However, the radar’s ACE function was activated, which may have led to the BALTIC CONDOR’s echo being filtered away on the radar’s screen. As on the X-band radar, BALTIC CONDOR’s echo was situated in the heading line, which may have made the echo less clear.
  • The ship had a procedure which indicated that the officer in charge had to use the S-band radar, if there was only one navigator in the steering chairs. On the day of the accident, both navigators held the perception that they were two navigators in the chairs, because carrying out the necessary administrative tasks was only a short interruption for the master. This did not give rise to reconfiguring the radar screens.
  • The time the navigators each had available to monitor the radar was quite short. The combination of lack of time for detecting unidentified ships and adjusting radar settings probably led to an impaired display of BALTIC CONDOR’s echo. The impaired display may have helped to confirm the navigators’ perception that there was no traffic in the area other than a ship at anchor, and thus led to both navigators overlooking BALTIC CONDOR.
  • It may be concluded that although EXPRESS 1 was manned by two navigators, there was in fact only one navigator paid full and continuous attention to the navigation during the entire period between the departure and the collision. It was normal working practice on the ship that one navigator left the steering chair – or the bridge – during the voyage. This was a necessary result of the company’s manning of the ship, the organisation of work and the ship’s interior, which did not allow for the maintenance of a bridge discipline where navigation was carried out by two navigators during the entire voyage.
  • It can also be concluded that the bridge on EXPRESS 1 could not be characterised as a sterile bridge environment. On the contrary, it was organised in a way which caused unnecessarily many disturbances to the work of the navigators in the form of noise and activities of other crew members. This might have had a negative impact on the attention of the navigators.

Lessons learned

  • High-speed ships are associated with a higher risk of collision than in conventional shipping. Collision situations evolve faster at high speed, and the consequences will be correspondingly more serious due to the force that speed entails. To match this increased risk, high-speed ships are manned with two on-duty navigators. It is not only imperative that their work is supported by both the right equipment and good ergonomic conditions, but also that they are not exposed to distractions in the form of noise, conversations or other work tasks that can distract them from their primary task of navigating and avoiding collision. It is thus not expedient for the bridge to evolve into a space where other tasks are solved that are not directly related to navigation, such as a meeting room, office space for administrative tasks, archives, etc. Not only does it cause disruption, but it can also induce the navigators to take on tasks they should not be performing during navigation.
  • AIS is not a tool designed for anti-collision. However, it may be helpful to make your own ship visible to others and, if necessary, communicate the ship’s current status. The Accident Investigation Board has previously pointed out that particularly small ships, such as fishing vessels, touring boats and the like, can benefit from using an AIS to make their presence visible.

Actions taken

After the incident, the operator took the following preventive measures:

  • Administrative tasks in connection to departure are limited to reporting the passenger number to the company’s 24-hour office. The company plans to automatise this task by means of the booking system in the nearest future.
  • The ship’s catering team leader now runs the safety video from the shopping area instead of from the bridge.
  • Quiet time periods has been established on the bridge: 15 minutes before arrival and 10 minutes after departure. In these periods, access to the bridge is prohibited for all persons, other than those engaged in the navigation of the ship.
  • It has been emphasised that phone calls are not allowed in the quiet periods.
  • Equipment obstructing the use of the roller curtain has been removed.
  • The company has called for a tender offer on alteration on the bridge ventilation system. Thereby the roller curtain can be kept closed while maintaining a comfortable temperature by the navigational station.
  • Type-rating must ensure that the navigations are instructed in the use of the radars’ automatic functions and the limits of these functions.
  • Based on the incident it has been decided to replace the X-band radar magnetron more frequently.
  • It has been emphasised that only the officers can take their meals in the operating compartment.
  • A work station for the employees who needs access to the company’s systems has been established in the technical room below the bridge.
  • ISM procedures on the master’s standing orders concerning the navigators’ tasks during restricted visibility has been revised.
  • The company arranged a project day for the officers and the safety committee with the theme “Safe everyday.” The focus was how the company can raise the safety level – e.g. bridge discipline. A follow-up meeting will take place ultimo October.
  • Daily verification of the VDR’s function has been implemented.
  • Crew control will be carried out in the technical room when it has been ensured that the necessary information is available to the master on the bridge. This is to minimise disturbing elements on the bridge during the voyage.

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Source: Danish Maritime Accident Investigation Board 

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