Lessons Learned: Abort Positions Should Be In The Passage Plan


UK MAIB reports in its most recent Safety Digest, a cargo ferry was making its way into port with gale-force winds blowing from the east.

The Incident

A cargo ferry was making its way into port with gale-force winds blowing from the east. Due to the unfavourable conditions the master was conning, supported by a co-navigator and helmsman. The manoeuvre required a 180° swing to port before moving astern and docking port side alongside.

The master began the turn once the vessel was inside the swinging circle. With the bow thruster to port and the rudder hard to port the turn rate started to build and the vessel’s stern drove through the wind, which was now gusting at over 50 knots (kts). The ferry started to drift bodily downwind as the wind came onto the port side; this initially went unnoticed by the bridge team. The master struggled to lift the bow against the wind and the co-navigator, growing uneasy, highlighted that the wind was now gusting at up to 60kts. The vessel was no longer within its operational limits and began drifting sideways at 1.5kts toward unsafe water. The master became slightly flustered and several unclear messages were relayed to the anchor party, which needed clarification before the port anchor was eventually dropped. However, this did not stop the ferry from running aground on the western limit of the channel.

The master regained composure and manoeuvred the vessel off the mud and alongside the berth by paying out the anchor cable to help hold the bow against the wind. As a precaution, the intention was to have someone standing by the anchor’s bitter end in case it needed to be let go; however, the crew could not find it and so this idea was dismissed. No damage was found when the vessel finally made it safely alongside and the anchor was recovered by tug later that day, without incident.

Lessons learned

  • Plan → Abort positions should be included in the passage plan and visually shown on the chart to prompt a bridge team discussion. The team can then determine whether the vessel can complete the manoeuvre within operational limits and review its contingency plans.
  • Communicate → Bridge Resource Management principles can be applied to other vessel operations such as those on the mooring deck. For example, closed-loop communications can be helpful between the bridge team and mooring deck leaders, especially in an emergency situation such as when the anchor needs to be let go unexpectedly.
  • Teamwork → A shared mental model leads to more significant input and vested interest from all involved. Team members can monitor the execution of the plan more effectively if they know what is happening. The concept of thinking aloud supports this and can empower other team members to challenge and make recommendations when they develop concerns.
  • Equipment → The bitter end frees the ship from the anchor. The deck team must know its location and how to release the anchor chain in an emergency. Including the bitter end in both crew familiarization and refresher sessions for those working on mooring decks helps to remind crew of its location should it ever be needed.

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Source: MAIB