Three years ago, the scene was Cargados Carajos Shoals 240 nm north east of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. The sailing vessel Vestas Wind had driven themselves onto a charted reef after failing to adequately use both electronic and paper charts. In a Cinderella story, the boat was salvaged, rebuilt and took part in the last legs of the 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race (VOR).
Returning for the 2017-2018 edition of the VOR, the same boat (update : the current Vestas 11th Hour Racing is the former Alvimedica boat from the 2014-2015 race) , now named Vestas 11th Hour Racing was approaching Hong Kong in the early morning hours of Saturday, January 20th. As the sailing yacht proceeded at close to 20 knots in these notoriously crowded waters, they collided with a local fishing boat.
The collision damaged the port bow of Vestas 11th Hour Racing and sank the fishing boat. Nine of the ten fisherman onboard were rescued by other vessels, but the tenth was seriously injured and confirmed dead several hours later at a local hospital.
The risk assessment and mitigation skills of the sailors on the Vestas racing team(s) (update : the current Vestas crew includes members from the 2014-2015 VOR Alvimedica crew) have been challenged in two VOR races in a row now. Running your boat up on a charted reef and the associated possible crewmembers’ injuries/fatalities is one thing. Racing these high-speed/high-tech machines through crowded waters and risking the general public is quite another.
Rule 6 Safe Speed
Every vessel shall at all times proceed at a safe speed so that she can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions. In determining a safe speed the following factors shall be among those taken into account:
(a) By all vessels:
(i) the state of visibility;
(ii) the traffic density including concentrations of fishing vessels or any other vessels;
Rule 6 of the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (COLREGS) addresses safe speed by all vessels. As has been noted in many mainstream and social media posts concerning this collision, the area around Hong Kong is known for the large fleets of fishing vessels. It could be questioned whether the speed of this yacht was prudent or safe in this case given the known hazards.
While we would no more have a Formula 1 or NASCAR race on a public highway, the routing of a professional sailing race through congested waters is a questionable practice. The investigation into this incident will likely be by the local port state – Hong Kong and their Maritime Accident Investigation Board (MAIB). The subsequent accident report is likely to not be as forgiving as the one conducted by the Volvo Ocean Race into the grounding of Vestas Wind in 2014.
Additional Reading and Links
Fishing Vessels : Avoiding them means avoiding the consequences – maddenMaritime