‘Hit-and-runs’ at Sea – Damage Maritime Signs



‘Hits-and-runs’ are often associated with road accidents, though it is not uncommon in the maritime world. Japanese Coast Guard estimated that there were about 780 accidents over the 10 years through 2014 in which vessels accidentally collided with and damaged maritime navigation signs (see below) in seas off Japan, with 70 percent of them found to be “hit-and-run” cases.


The JCG (Japanese Coast Guard) incurred losses of about ¥170 million over the period to repair or replace such buoys. It suspects that many of the vessels involved were foreign-registered freighters and left Japan without noticing the accidents they caused, making it difficult to deal with the accidents.

According to the JCG, 218 of the 780 cases of accidental contact from 2005 to 2014 were reported by the vessels involved. The remaining 562 were “hit-and-run” cases, with the vessels eventually identified in 207 cases but still unknown in the other 355.

Most of the damaged objects were light buoys for maritime navigation, which are placed with weights in ocean waters off Japan. The vessels often collided with the buoys as they were drifting with the tide or trying to avoid another vessel. Large-size freighters and tankers involved in collisions could have continued cruising without even noticing their accidental contact with a small buoy.

“We can’t do anything if the vessels have fled overseas,” a JCG official said.

In September last year, a freighter registered in Panama collided with a light buoy when it was cruising in southern waters of Iwashima island in Yamaguchi Prefecture in the Seto Inland Sea. The freighter left the site without reporting the accident to Japanese authorities, but the JCG recognized it through an alarm system installed on the damaged buoy.

When JCG personnel on a patrol boat dispatched to the site questioned the cargo vessel crew about the incident, they were told: “We thought we’d avoided it. We didn’t hear any sound of a collision.”

Repairing a damaged buoy costs up to ¥6 million if onshore work is needed. If sunk, the cost for replacement could be more than ¥10 million.

The JCG charges the vessels involved for repair or replacement costs if they are identified, but has to pay the expenses itself if they are not. The total cost the JCG shouldered for repairs and replacements reached ¥170 million over the 10 years from 2005 to 2014.

The JCG introduced an alarm system on the buoys that goes off when their lights are broken in a collision, as well as special devices that spray paint on the vessel body. However, these measures have proven ineffective.

Source: The Japan News

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