COLREGS Moment : Meeting situation gone bad….things that go “Bump” in the North Sea

Photo provided by the VBZR Vrijwillige Blankenbergse Zee Reddingsdienst

Something went dreadfully wrong off the coast of Belgium early Tuesday morning.  Whether it was a machinery malfunction, the misapplication of the International Collision Regulations (COLREGS) or other human element factor, a collision occurred between two merchant vessels – the 315-meter LNG carrier Al-Oraiq and the 130-meter cargo vessel Flinterstar.  As can be seen below in the YouTube video of their AIS data, the incident happened off the port city of Zeebrugge.

Of the 12 man crew on the cargo vessel which was severely damaged, 11 apparently were rescued unscathed, while the 12th crew member was treated for hypothermia.  With the water temperatures off Zeebrugge around a chilly 16° C, it is fortunate that the Flinterstar did not sink completely and came to rest on a bank.  The LNG carrier sustained damage, but was able to make it to port in Zeebrugge with the assistance of a tug.


Head-on Situation

a) When two power-driven vessels are meeting on reciprocal or nearly reciprocal courses so as to involve risk of collision each shall alter her course to starboard so that each shall pass on the port side of the other.

b) Such a situation shall be deemed to exist when a vessel sees the other ahead or nearly ahead and by night she could see the masthead lights of the other in a line or nearly in a line and/or both sidelights and by day she observes the corresponding aspect of the other vessel.

c) When a vessel is in any doubt as to whether such a situation exists she shall assume that it does and act accordingly.

The investigation report for this incident will be read with great interest when it is published.  In the meantime, we can only speculate that there was a lack of communication and poor application of the rules of the road.  We might expect that vessels in such a situation would both alter course to starboard, eventually passing safely port-to-port.  In the event that either vessel couldn’t comply – due to factors such as water depth – early and effective communication of the actions taken would be paramount.

Also of interest might be the use of any sound signals in the final moments prior to collision, as well as the rest-work cycles of the crew members involved.  As safe manning of vessels comes under increased scrutiny, might this incident be a sign of the lack thereof?  Or is it simply a matter of training?  Whether there was a lookout (or an effective lookout) might also be a question to be answered.  Any way we view this incident or questions it raises, we can use it as a teaching moment and discuss with our bridge teams what NOT to do and what we might do instead.

Let’s be safe out there!

Posted in Best Practices, COLREGS, Incidents | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Movie or book tonight? If you choose book, here’s some options…..

You get off watch, finish work on deck or climb out of the engine room.  Next, you get a bite to eat and then?  Very frequently, it’s time to plug in a movie and vegetate until it’s time to hit the rack or  – quite possibly – you fall asleep in front of the flickering screen.

If you’re a little more awake and want to read a book, we’ve compiled a list (most of which will NOT put you to sleep like Bowditch) that you might find interesting.  Take a look at them – created with input from merchant marine and U.S. Marine Corps leaders and linked to Amazon for quick download.  Get entertained and challenge your mind!

Click HERE for our reading suggestions.

Posted in education, Leadership, management | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Restricted Visibility……and things that go “bump” in it……

Restricted visibility – fog, rain, snow, mist, haze, smoke, etc. – can make a normal watch seem hours longer and make even the most mundane transit stressful.  Very frequently, unless we see a fog bank roll in, the visibility deteriorates gradually and we are left wondering if this is restricted or not.  The moment we ask ourselves that question, is the moment we should start considering it restricted, however.

Complacency and fatigue are two oft mentioned factors that play into incidents on the water.  Unfortunately, on smaller vessels – particularly those with only two watchstanders and a 6-on/6-off rotation, calling the captain for a scenario such as restricted visibility immediately cuts into his already limited rest.  The fact of the matter is that once restricted visibility sets in, we have to take action.

Guidance?  There’s plenty of guidance out there – COLREGS (better known as the Rules of the Road) Rule 19 is a great place to start.  It talks about the use of radar, having a dedicated lookout and travelling at a safe speed.  And then there is Rule 35, which discusses the sound signals required “in or near an area of restricted visibility.”  That means even if we are only near – not necessarily in – restricted visibility, we must be taking some actions such as the appropriate sound signals.

If you are looking for more guidance, check out the ICS Bridge Procedures Guide (an old copy here).  There is a decent checklist for navigation in restricted visibility in it.  While it might seem counter-intuitive to pull out a checklist and potentially distract yourself while in restricted visibility, if it is used as the situation develops or before you take over the watch, it might be well worth your while.

And speaking of things that go “bump” in restricted visibility, take a look at the NTSB report below – and consider what the captain/mate might have done or what you would do in a similar situation.

Additional Reading and Links

NTSB – OSV Tristan Janice Platform Allision – February 2014

USCG – Navigation Rules – International-Inland

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Risk Moment : Avoiding the Wrath of PSC…..

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

The crew of the tanker Overseas Jademar are sitting at anchor in Port Angeles, Washington this morning.  As the vessel was detained by the U.S. Coast Guard yesterday after a port state control (PSC) inspection, they are likely effecting the necessary repairs to clear the deficiencies and get back to moving cargo.  With a charter rate of $15,000 to $20,000/day, you can only assume there is significant pressure from the home office to do so quickly.

The deficiencies listed in the USCG press release of February 10th include fire doors that do not close automatically, missing or damaged gaskets on fire hoses and an inoperable emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB).  When taken individually, these do not seem enough to detain a vessel, but taken as signs of a systemic breakdown in the maintenance of lifesaving and firefighting equipment, they may be the tip of the iceberg.  Unfortunately, many of us have signed on vessels and found the same or similar conditions.  Long story short, we may be in danger of being detained ourselves if we allow these conditions to persist or occur.

How to help ourselves?  We can start by taking the inspections of lifesaving and firefighting equipment seriously. To put it mildly, we are only helping ourselves to have this equipment in good condition.  It is very common to have the 3rd mate/officer conduct the firefighting and lifesaving inspections.  This, however, does not relieve the master and/or chief officer of the responsibility of ensuring these inspections (and maintenance!) are conducted properly.  One 3rd mate pencil-whipping the inspections for several months could put you in the same situation as Overseas Jademar!  Continuing on, we can become familiar (or re-familiarize ourselves) with the links below.  While information comes at us from many angles in an ever-increasing deluge, spending a little time here may pay great dividends when the general alarm starts ringing…….or the inspector comes calling…….

Let’s be safe out there.

Additional Reading and Links


LR / UK P&I : ISM & ISPS pocket checklist : Reducing the risk of Port State Control detentions

Posted in Best Practices, Incidents, Merchant Marine, Safety | Tagged , , | Leave a comment