Silenced Alarms & Ignored Message Led To Grounding

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The general cargo vessel ran aground on Sgeir Graidach shoal in the Little Minch on the west coast of Scotland, while on passage from Drogheda, Ireland to Slite, Sweden. The crew were safely evacuated from the vessel by coastguard helicopter and ship was successfully refloated by salvors. There were no injuries but the damage to ship’s hull was extensive and the ship was declared a constructive total loss.

Incident

The general cargo vessel arrived in the port of Drogheda, Ireland to load a cargo of 1927 tonnes of solid recovered fuel. With the cargo loading completed, ship departed Drogheda. 

The weather had deteriorated since departing Drogehda and was then a south-westerly Beaufort force 6 to 9 with a rough to very rough following sea condition but visibility was good. At midnight, the ship’s C/O, along with an able seaman (AB) to act as lookout, arrived on the bridge to take over the navigation watch from the master.

After sometime, ship’s C/O contacted Stornoway CGOC on VHF radio to advise that the ship was approaching reporting point ‘F’ which marked the start of the IMO recommended northerly route between the islands of Fladda-chuain and Eileen Trodday. Ship continued along the planned track, which did not follow the recommended route but instead took a route approximately 1nm to the north of the southern cardinal mark on Eugenie Rock. Ship was making good an autopilot-controlled course of 032° and a speed of 10.6kts.

A watchkeeper on the fishing vessel Ocean Harvest contacted ship on VHF radio to warn that ship was heading into ‘shoal waters’. Ship’s C/O responded promptly to the call, confirmed that he understood and that he would be altering the vessel’s course in the next few minutes. Soon after, ship’s C/O used the autopilot to alter course 10° to starboard at waypoint 19, in accordance with the voyage plan.

Ship’s C/O and the lookout felt two heavy impacts and the vessel came to a stop. The deck lights were switched on and the C/O realised that the vessel was aground, and he put the telegraphs to stop.

Investigation

During MAIB investigation, it was found that

  1. A full appraisal of information was not made in the voyage planning process, the master instead relying on previous experience of navigating the Little Minch, leading to an IMO adopted recommended route not being used. 
  2. The safety contour settings on the electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS) were not correct. The safety contour values had not been changed since the crew had joined the vessel a month before.
  3. A visual check of the route using appropriately scaled electronic navigation charts was not conducted and the ECDIS route safety check was not carried out.
  4. A second check of the voyage plan did not take place which meant the plan was created by a single person in isolation. 
  5. It is probable that the chief officer was also suffering from the effects of fatigue.
  6. The watchkeepers at Stornoway Coastguard Operations Centre did not intervene prior to ship’s grounding as they were unaware of the developing situation, even though the watchkeeper of a local fishing vessel had warned ship on very high frequency radio channel prior to the grounding.

Lesson learnt

  • Ensuring there are sufficient personnel to conduct essential tasks effectively during periods of high workload and to protect the watchkeepers against the effects of fatigue.
  • Ensure that the correct application of safety contours and alert limit settings is positively confirmed on all company vessels.
  • If the voyage planning must be conducted by the master then a second check by a different navigating officer must take place.
  • Ensuring all staff auditing the feet have an appropriate level of knowledge, through training and experience, to enable the effective audit of the use of ECDIS on board.

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Source: MAIB

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