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

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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

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Security Moment : Nigerian Waters Free of Pirates?!

The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Director of Shipping Development, Captain Warredi Enisuoh, recently addressed the carriage of unarmed security personnel onboard vessels in Nigerian waters.  The concern relates to the security personnel’s relationship with companies that also provide armed security teams for maritime security – raising the possibility that weapons are being carried for part of the vessel’s voyage and then disposed overboard or secreted on board.  Captain Enisuoh voiced this opinion and stated, “The weapons they come with could be sold. This could well threaten the peace and calm we enjoy in our waters……..The agency is, therefore, sounding a note of warning that any vessel that comes into Nigeria with a foreign guard, whether armed or unarmed will be detained.”

This statement of the “peace and calm” enjoyed in Nigerian waters surely comes as cold comfort to the crew and families thereof of the MT Kalamos.  Anchored in Nigerian waters and awaiting the completion of loading, this Greek-owned tanker was boarded by armed intruders at approximately 2200 on February 3rd.  Three crewmembers are missing – presumably kidnapped for ransom – and one officer is dead – victim of gunshot wounds in these “peaceful waters.”  The tanker’s operating company, Aeolos Management, is reportedly working with the Nigerian authorities to locate and free the missing crewmembers.

This incident comes on the heels of the detention of three vessels that had the temerity to enter Nigerian waters with additional, but unarmed, security personnel onboard.  As criminals the world over – from the Malacca Straits to Somalia to the Gulf of Guinea to South America – have realized there are hundreds of millions of dollars of assets (vessels and cargo) floating around without any security, NIMASA directly prohibits any additional security unless it is provided by local vendors.  As recently as July 2014, the Nigerian Maritime Administration publicly announced that they were “well-equipped to combat piracy,” yet tragedies such as these continue to occur.

Perhaps the Nigerian authorities should view this incident as an opportunity to embrace Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSC) and work with the maritime industry to reduce and eliminate violence against seafarers.  Worldwide, this violence is increasing, yet there are barriers to providing proper security – some thrown up by nation-states.  The IMO has addressed many of these barriers, yet some countries, such as Nigeria, continue to resist.  Certainly, the sovereignty and security of a country cannot be questioned, but as the human costs mount, one must ask, “Why?”  Perhaps, the answer is as simple as the storm that “moves safely out to sea.”  Seafarers are out of sight and out of mind.  Until an incident such as the MT Kalamos.

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Having Trouble Explaining the Difference Between Near Misses and Unsafe Acts?

Is it a near miss?  Or was it an unsafe act?  Maybe just an unsafe condition.  What’s the difference and how do you explain it to your crew when introducing them to your safety management system?

Check out for more cartoons like the one below.  It’s a good visual explanation of the differences between some of the terms used in our safety management systems.  As the safety culture of a vessel and/or company evolves, many are moving away from the simple reporting of near misses.  By identifying (and resolving!) unsafe acts and unsafe conditions, the goal is to break the error chain before a near miss even occurs.

So, where is YOUR safety culture on the evolution chain?


Near Miss - Lifting Gear

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