Insufficient Safe Maneuvering Room Leads To Collision


A recent report published by National Transportation Safety Board briefs the collision between APL Guam and Marcliff, Hansa Steinburg.

What happened? 

At 2327 local time on March 21, 2019, the containership Marcliff was outbound from the
Port of Yokohama, Japan, when it collided with the containership APL Guam, which was inbound to an anchorage at the port.

After the initial collision, the Marcliff then collided with the containership Hansa Steinburg, which was anchored nearby. No pollution or injuries were reported. Damages to the three vessels were estimated at $1,178,200.


Vessels were visible

Although it was dark, visibility on the night of the accident was clear, and bridge team
members from both the Marcliff and the APL Guam stated that they could see the other vessel ahead of them. VDR replays of radar displays on both vessels showed an uncluttered picture with the other vessel’s radar return and automatic radar plotting aid (APRA) generated trail clearly visible.

Master’s intention

The Marcliff master stated that his intention was to pass starboard to starboard with the
APL Guam, and that had the APL Guam continued on its original course, the Marcliff would have passed safely with 2 cables distance between the APL Guam on one side and the Hansa Steinburg on the other. However, investigators estimate that the total distance between the Hansa Steinburg and the anchored Shinsei Maru was about 4.5 cables—wide enough for only one vessel to pass between the two while maintaining more than 2 cables separation on either side. Even if the APL Guam had continued on its original course instead of turning hard starboard, the total distance between the APL Guam and Hansa Steinburg, in which the Marcliff intended to pass, was less than 2 cables.

Both the ship in crossing situation

Because the APL Guam and the Marcliff were in a crossing situation and the APL Guam was on the starboard side of the Marcliff, by international convention, the Marcliff was required to keep out of the way of the APL Guam and avoid crossing ahead of it.6 The master ordered a 10 degree turn to port about 1 minute before the collision, but the Marcliff should have altered course to starboard to avoid crossing ahead of the APL Guam. A turn to starboard would have been predictable by the APL Guam pilot and bridge team and resulted in a port to port meeting between the vessels. Thus, the master’s turn to port (and his stated intention to pass starboard to starboard) would have been unexpected by the pilot and bridge team on the APL Guam. The Marcliff master did not appear to recognize the dangerous situation that was developing until 2325:51—45 seconds before the accident—and at first took no action despite a recommendation from the third mate to use astern propulsion. When the master eventually ordered the engine astern, it was too late to avoid the collision.

Lights were illuminated

Prior to the accident, deck lights on the bow of the APL Guam were illuminated to allow
the crew to prepare for anchoring. As viewed from the Marcliff, these lights may have obscured the master and third mate’s view of the APL Guam’s normal navigation lights, or otherwise caused confusion as to the vessel’s size and aspect. The third mate told investigators that he initially thought the APL Guam was anchored. Additionally, while maneuvering through the anchorage, the
master and third mate were carrying on a conversation in their native language. While the conversation was described as professional, it is possible that it provided some level of distraction that, combined with the confusing lighting of the APL Guam, delayed the master’s response to the
developing situation. Therefore, a loss of situational awareness may have been a factor in the collision.

No appropriate action to avoid

When it became apparent that the Marcliff was not taking appropriate action to avoid
collision, the APL Guam was permitted to take action.7 After the APL Guam crew sounded the prolonged blast of the whistle, the pilot ordered hard starboard on the ship’s rudder—the expected action to avoid the collision with the Marcliff. The APL Guam pilot’s concern for risk of collision was reasonable, and his decision to maneuver to attempt to avoid the collision was appropriate.

The master of the APL Guam was monitoring the developing situation with the Marcliff,
and, at the point that he determined that a collision was imminent, he took the conn from the pilot and ordered the engine to stop and then to crash astern. Although the rudder and engine orders did not prevent the collision with the approaching Marcliff, they likely lessened the severity of the accident by slowing the speed at which the two vessels impacted.       Thus, the actions of the APL Guam pilot and bridge team to avoid collision were appropriate.

Neither ship contacted to
resolve the developing situation

Prior to the accident, neither ship contacted the other ship via VHF radio to attempt to
resolve the developing situation. Both vessels were equipped with automatic identification
systems, and therefore each crew had access to information about the other ship, including its name, course, and speed. Although there is no requirement in international regulations to use radio for collision avoidance, these communications may have prevented this accident either through early coordination of passing arrangements or by alerting the other vessel to the emergency.

Compulsory pilotage in the Port of Yokohama

In August 2015, the requirement for compulsory pilotage in the Port of Yokohama was raised from 3,000 gross tons to 10,000 gross tons. 8 This change was in line with the relaxation of compulsory pilotage requirements in other Japanese ports, and vessels such as the Marcliff were designed and built to take advantage of this change. Pilots have local knowledge of the ports in
which they operate, speak the native language, have information on other ships under pilotage, and are familiar with local regulations and procedures. Had a pilot been at the conn of the Marcliff when the vessel got under way on the accident date, it is more likely that the pilot would have known of the inbound APL Guam under pilotage, been familiar with and anticipated the actions of the other pilot, and, if necessary, communicated with the other pilot via VHF radio to avoid meeting
in a close-quarters situation.

The Yokohama Passage

The Yokohama Passage terminates in anchorage YL-4 and does not extend to the main shipping channel. Ships inbound to or outbound from the passage must pass through the anchorage, navigating between anchored vessels. This arrangement encourages vessel bridge teams to take the most expeditious route through the anchorage, as the Marcliff master did when he turned south-southeast, regardless of the risks of navigating in close proximity to anchored vessels. Thus, the arrangement of the Yokohama Passage, terminating in the YL-4 anchorage instead of extending to the main shipping channel, increases the risk of accidents such as this one.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the
collision between the containerships Marcliff and APL Guam was the Marcliff master’s attempt to pass between the APL Guam and the anchored Hansa Steinburg with insufficient safe maneuvering room. Contributing to the accident was a lack of communication between the Marcliff bridge team and the APL Guam pilot and bridge team to establish their maneuvering intentions.

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Source: CBS News


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