Law of Collisions

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If the master has forgotten his Rules Of The Road he certainly doesn’t tell the third mate

Earliest collision rules, established by custom in accordance with dictates of good seamanship, were enforced by Admiralty Courts in the UK and formed part of their maritime law.

  • In 1846, first set of uniform rules to prevent collision at sea were established in The UK.
  • In 1863 first complete code of rules was enacted and enforced by UK Parliament. These rules were revised many times.
  • In 1960, first set of International rules for prevention of Collision at Sea came into force.
  • International Regulations replaced these rules for preventing collision at Sea, 1972, which came in to force in July 1977.

Collision regulations 1972

All 41 rules have to be remembered by heart word for word, by each and every bridge watch-keeping officer so that the right rule comes to his mind instantly when occasion demands. But action he takes at that time and the order he gives instantly, is the result of a fine tuned intuition, honed and in built in him through education, training, experience and expertise he has gained as a navigator. Intention of this course is to help the student fine tune and hone that intuition to razor sharpness.

Collision regs are made not only for benefit of the ship which is required to obey them, but also in the interest of every ship in the vicinity whose safety is endangered by the presence of other ships nearby.

Objectives of the regulations

Object of the Regulations is to stipulate action to be taken by ships in close proximity, so that each ship not only knows what she has to do but can also anticipate manoeuvres of the other, to avert collision. If a Russian Master observes the red side light of a ship on her starboard side, his perception as to what is involved and what he has to do in accordance with collision regulations, is exactly the same as that of a British, French, German or a Chinese master, and will take the same action, even though he has been trained in Russian language in his own country.

Acceptance of regulations

130 countries owning 96.2% of world shipping ratify collision Regulations 1972. A ship has to obey these rules on the high seas because they are Law of her Flag State being party to this convention. When a ship is within territorial waters of a country she must follow the SAME rules because they are Law in that country. It having enacted the same rules. Even in the odd chance that a ship is in a country not party to this convention, it would be impossible for a navigator to justify a deviation from these rules because they are accepted universally and because we are bound to follow ordinary practice of seamen. Therefore no ship is justified to deviate from them.


Rule 1 (a) stipulates, “These rules shall apply to all vessels upon the high seas and in all waters connected therewith navigable by seagoing vessels”. Therefore Naval ships owned by Governments of all countries signatories to this convention, must also abide by these rules.

Case no.1

Folkstone Magistrates in England fined Captain Theodorus Mourounakis a Greek Captain of the Atlantic Mermaid, .£ 2000 plus £ 5950 in costs, for breaching rule 13. He did not keep clear of the vessel he was overtaking. He contravened Collision regulations and collided with the Hampoel in Dover Strait on June 7, 2001. The three people on the navigation bridge of the faster overtaking ship did not see the Hampoel either visually or on Radar. Here we have a classic case of collision between two ships of different nationalities colliding in territorial waters of a third country. Both Greece and UK have made collision regulations part of their laws. Art 2 of United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea gives right of Sovereignty to the Coastal State within its territorial waters, ie 12 miles from coastal base lines. Since this accident happened within UK territorial waters, UK courts had jurisdiction to try, a Greek Captain, under their National Laws.

Different nationalities, same law

Collision regulations, (ROR) provide for what has to be done and what has not to be done in a given situation. Govt. of each country, which enacts them in its Laws, stipulates punishments against contravention of these rules. Had the above accident taken place on the high seas, i.e. outside the territorial waters of any country, it would have been governed by the Flag State. Even though contravention would be the same, punishment would have been in accordance with Greek Law.

Application of local rules

In some countries there are local rules of navigation within their waters. But usually such rules are framed not to conflict with ROR as far as possible. Traffic separation schemes are a typical example. But ROR takes precedence over traffic separation schemes. IMO adopted schemes are also governed by rule 10. Courts have held that if there is conflict between adhering to ROR or sailing within a traffic separation scheme, the vessel must follow ROR, which take precedence over traffic separation schemes.


In a 1977 case of collision between two ships, – one of the vessels was navigating in the wrong traffic lane, in contravention of traffic separation scheme, Mr Justice Brandon said, “Compliance with traffic separation scheme, is not compulsory by law. But good seamanship requires that ships should comply with the scheme. Failure to comply, may amount to negligent navigation. But the scheme cannot and does not override Collision Regulations which continue to regulate duties and obligations of ships between one another whether they navigate in accordance with the scheme or not.”

In 1977 this may be the case but now all TRS approved by the IMO are part of the regulations.

Navigation in TRS

Lot depends on ability Of a vessel crossing a traffic lane to enter the stream of traffic with proper regard to provisions of Rules 1, 2, 5 and 8 of collision regulations. In many collision cases a vessel crossing a traffic separation scheme becomes a stand on vessel from being the give way vessel or vice versa. Each thinks that the other is obliged to take action under the rules, till it is too late.

Case no 2

In a 1996 Court of Appeal case, the “Century Dawn” became the stand-on vessel under rule 15, while crossing a traffic lane in a traffic separation scheme area. She failed to cross the traffic lane at right angles and then to alter course. Thus she did not enter the new traffic lane on a course as near as possible to the line and direction of moving traffic in that lane. She also failed to see the other vessel either visually or on Radar till one mile away. She was held 40% to blame for collision. The Judge also criticised both vessels for failing to keep an adequate lookout. This recognises the principle that Collision is rarely fault of one ship alone but is mainly due to accumulation of small errors by both vessels involved.

Prohibition on alteration of course to port

It has been recognised in these rules that a vessel should not alter her course to port in trying to avoid a vessel on her PORT SIDE. A major concession has been given to Master to alter course to avoid an oncoming vessel even when he is stand on vessel.

Vessels constrained to keep out of way of an oncoming vessel by reason of their draft, have been allotted special lights/signal, to indicate to other vessels that they are constrained by draft. But Law has not kept pace with advent of VLCC’s and ULCC’s, and their limitations.

Safe speed

For example if a ULCC is making 16 knots at full speed and her engines are reversed, she may need 25 minutes and three miles to lose her seaway to come to dead stop in water, depending on her engine power and response. In crowded English Channel with restricted visibility, a ULCC is required to follow same “ROR”, and to observe the same standard of safe speed, as any vessel i.e. “A speed such that the vessel is capable of being stopped in the water within half the range of visibility”!

A “coasting stop”, i.e. reducing speed from full ahead to about 2 knots with engines at stop, may require about 50 minutes and more than 6 miles!

A ship is steered with the help of her rudder at the stern. Since stern moves in opposite direction to the helm order, assuming average length of the ship to be about 600 feet, even if she could alter course ninety degrees INSTANTLY, it would take some 24 seconds for the whole length of the ship to get out of her original course line at 15 knots.

Meeting ships

But even at full helm and full speed, the ship does not respond instantly to a helm order but gradually. And it may require about two minutes plus half nautical mile, for the whole length of such a ship to depart from her original course line with helm hard over But alteration of course is never ninety degrees and never INSTANTLY. If alteration is small, say five degrees, the same ship at same speed will require 432 seconds to clear away from her original course line in accordance with following calculations.

Speed of the ship: 15 knots or 4 miles per minute.

Length of vessel about 600 feet or 0.1 nautical mile.

If course is altered only five degrees instead of ninety degrees, she will take ninety divided by five = 18 times, or 18×24 seconds = 432 seconds or 7.2 minutes to clear her original course line.

Above calculations show that if two ships were meeting end on or nearly end, and each altered five degree to starboard when they were four miles apart, their sterns will just about kiss each other when they pass. It also means that to pass one cable away from each other, each should alter minimum ten degrees to starboard when they are over four miles apart. In overtaking situations alteration has to be even more positive as only the overtaking ship has total responsibility till she is finally past and clear.

Kinetic energy is half displacement x speed squared. At 250,000 DWT & 2 knots, a VLCC has same kinetic energy as a 10000 tonner at 10 knots. 2 knots, maybe acceptable “safe” speed in restricted visibility but 10 knots is clearly not “safe” speed. Also if these ships collide, they will release 2,000,000 units of destructive energy.


This phenomenon between passing ships and its effect on manoeuvrability was unheard of till middle of 20th century. Main reason may have been that differences in relative sizes of passing ships were minor and hydrodynamic interaction between them was equal and opposite. But these days, with large variations in sizes and speeds of ships, it is a major factor, which contributes to collisions especially when disparities in sizes and speeds of either overtaking or passing vessels are considerable and they are passing each other at very close range.

When a vessel is moving through the water, there is a positive pressure field created at the bow, a smaller positive pressure field is created at the stern, and a negative pressure created amidships. Situations involving hydrodynamic interaction between vessels vary as their speed and size. Effect of these positive and negative pressures is more marked in narrow channels when ships are attempting to pass one another at very close range skin to skin for operational reasons. This effect is more pronounced when the larger vessel has small under keel clearance or when vessels are approaching an enclosed basin. Effect of these pressure fields can be significantly increased where the flow of water round a vessel is influenced by boundaries of a narrow or shallow channel or by sudden local constrictions e.g. shoals, or by presence of another vessel or by an increase in speed. Therefore depth contours and channel dimensions should be examined to identify areas where interaction may be experienced.

In recent years, hydrodynamic interaction has made it felt even in open ocean and has caused collisions, which could not otherwise be explained.

Interaction between passing ships

Case no 3

During Second World War, there was a collision between RMS Queen Mary and her escort vessel Curacao. Queen Mary was the largest and fastest ship afloat at that time with a displacement of over 80000 tons. She was steaming at 28.5 knot, with a ship load of American troops on board. Curacao was a small Naval frigate perhaps less than 1000 tons displacement. Both vessels were on Zig Zag Courses in a naval formation to avoid possibility of attack from German Submarines. This entire naval exercise was well known to both ships and was being immaculately executed.

All of a sudden the Curacao lost complete control and veered right into the course of the big vessel. Since both vessels were steaming very close to each other, in the specified naval formation, Queen Mary sliced through the escort vessel, which sank instantly. She could not even stop to pick up survivors in order not to endanger the numerous lives of American Army troops on board. Many lives on board the Curacao were lost.

It took the British Admiralty five years of trials with scale models of both ships in experimental tank, to find that at critical speeds and within a critical distance, smaller vessel always lost control through hydrodynamic interaction, because of large disparity in the sizes of their hulls.

2,50000 tonners are regularly plying the oceans today. Sizes of many ships are well under 70000 tons. A large number of ships are still in the range of 20000/30000 tons. Therefore phenomena of hydrodynamic interaction is more in evidence today than ever before because passing ships have large disparity in sizes and speeds and they habitually pass each other very close on oceans trade routes.

Suction action

Every revolution of a ships propeller pushes her forward depending on the pitch of the propeller. It means that a mass of water equivalent to displacement of the vessel is displaced from forward to aft, as the vessel cuts through the water, length by length. Therefore there is a regular stream of flow of water into the vacuum created at the stern of the ship.

Direction from which this water rushes to fill this void depends on many factors such as underwater lines of the ship, depth of sea under her, and contours of shoreline if a ship is near the coast. It also depends on her speed, weather conditions and direction of wind and current if any.

But if any floating object happens to be within the range of this current of water flowing towards the stern of the vessel, it is likely to be sucked in.

Strength of such suction used to be relatively insignificant and was noticed only in docks and harbours when small crafts close to the ship’s wake were affected when the ship moved while manoeuvring. Again, we are taught and trained that if a man falls overboard on the starboard side even in mid ocean at full speed, we should immediately order the helm hard to starboard to remove the ship’s stern as far away from the man overboard as possible, so that he does not get sucked into the propeller.

Today with ULCC’s and VLCC’s the effect of suction extends to considerable distance away from a moving ship, because of huge quantity of water, which must rush to fill the vacuum created at the stern of such large vessels. Suction effect when coupled with phenomena of interaction between hulls of different sizes can cause havoc and make the smaller ship in the vicinity to lose complete control.

With ocean trade having multiplied and Satellite navigation being so exact, many ships plying on same trade routes are frequently on exactly the same course line within yards of each other when meeting end on or overtaking.
This needs more vigilance from Navigators and more positive, timely and wider action.

Case no.4

There was a collision in 1996 in the Bay of Bengal, which illustrates the point. Maersk Navigator, 255000 tons, fully loaded, and Sanko Honour, 77000 DWT in Ballast, were on reciprocal courses North of Sumatra. The big ship was making for Malacca Straits from Gulf and the smaller tanker was making for gulf from Malacca Strait. Each ship altered to starboard as per rule 14. When the vessels were passing each other stem to stem, the smaller vessel appeared to alter 90 deg to her port. She hit the big vessel broadside near her No 4 cargo tank, spilling 25000 tons of oil from it into the sea. The big ship caught fire. Not much damage was caused to the smaller vessel.

Question is, why should the second officer of the Sanko Honour, alter 90 degrees to her port to hit the Maersk Navigator? Answer may not be that he ALTERED, but that he lost complete control, because of interaction between both the hulls, coupled with the suction effect, as both vessels may have been passing too close to each other.

In another case a small vessel, while overtaking a bigger but slower vessel right ahead, altered two degrees to port. When she came abeam of the overtaken vessel, one cable away, altered back to her original course. As hulls of both ships interacted, with propeller of the big ship sucking huge quantities of water, the smaller albeit faster vessel, slowly but surely lost control, collided and sank.

Case study no 4

Overseas Alaska v. Shinto Maru 1977.

The large ‘Overseas Alaska’ and a much smaller ‘Shinto Maru’ were outbound in Columbia River in 600 ft. broad channel with 50 ft depth, in broad daylight, good weather & visibility and conned by pilots. The big vessel steadily gained on the smaller one at 15 knots. Speed of the smaller vessel was reduced to 9 knots in .agreement between pilots to expedite planned overtake. At the time of overtake, the Shinto Maru increased speed to full, to have better helm control. As Overseas Alaska drew abreast of Shinto Maru with hulls about 200 feet apart, Shinto Maru sheered to port towards Overseas Alaska. The sheer accelerated even with helm hard starboard, till the bow of Shinto Maru struck Overseas Alaska. This accident was totally attributed to Hydrodynamic interaction and the powerful suction effect exerted by the big vessel, accentuated by the shallow depth and too small a distance between the hulls in such a narrow channel.

Overtaking vessel was held solely at fault for collision in shallow Columbia River channel because there was an inherent and foreseeable risk that her suction would cause the smaller ship to sheer to port out of control. Overtaken vessel was found not at fault and not to have contributed to the accident.

Case study -5

In another collision case, Horta Barbosa was north bound in ballast in Gulf of Oman and a smaller Sea star was coming out of the Gulf, fully loaded. Speeds of both vessels were 16 knots and both were on reciprocal courses. At 0345 Hrs, lookout and cadet of Horta Barbosa left the Bridge to call their relief. When Sea Star was about three to four miles away bearing 30 deg. on starboard bow, second officer went into the chartroom. When lookout returned and saw Sea Star on crossing course right ahead, he called the second officer, who altered steering to manual and ordered engines full astern. Ships collided almost at once. Sea Star was destroyed by fire. 11 of her crew members lost their lives.

Horta Barbosa contended that SEA STAR had improperly altered her course. Sea Star claimed total failure of lookout by Horta Barbosa and failure to avoid a close quarters situation much earlier.

Mr. Justice Brandon in the Admiralty Court held that the big ship did not take proper avoiding action in time. He criticised the second officer for being negligent by going to chartroom for about six to seven minutes before collision. He should have remained in the wheelhouse or on starboard wing of the navigation bridge and watched the approach of Sea Star.

This case raises the same question. Why should Sea Star alter course to cut across bow of the larger Horta Barbosa when courses were reciprocal and vessels would have passed clear of each other in the normal courses Answer lies somewhere else. It maybe that hulls of both ships interacted to an extent that the smaller ship could not counteract it when combined with the suction effect.

It maybe that in addition to the hydrodynamic interaction, the Sea Star also experienced suction effect, got caught into the slip stream of the larger Horta Barbosa and lost control. Since the Sea Star sank, these pleaded in court nor could have been proved. factors were neither Collision statistics

Out of 82 clear weather collisions analysed for this course, 54 were in the night hours. 46 out of these took place at about midnight or around 0400! 57 out of the 82 collisions were either end on, or while overtaking. In most cases following observation may be noted: –

  1. Beam distance while passing was too little.
  2. Smaller vessel always lost control and veered into, or got sucked into the bigger one. The smaller vessel has not always sustained maximum damage.
  3. Since majority of these collisions happened at night at about change of watch, it is a pointer that at those crucial times, the duty officer being relieved was lax. Sec A- VIII/2 Part 3-1 Rule 22 of STCW convention stipulates that if at any time the officer in charge of the navigation watch is to be relieved when a manoeuvre or other action to avoid any hazard is taking place, the relief of that officer shall be deferred until such action has been completed.

Understanding the regulations

Direct responsibility for effective compliance of Collision Regulations rests with Master and watch keeping officer. To know these rules by heart is very important but not enough.

We must also have basic understanding of the underlying principals behind them and know how they affect us legally and practically.

Rules says that when a vessel finds that collision cannot be avoided by action of giving way vessel alone, she shall take such action as will best aid to avert collision. But who decides WHEN a situation has arisen that collision cannot be avoided by action of giving way vessel alone? One master may think WHEN IS NOW. Other master may think WHEN IS NOT YET. Therefore the time when rules require an action to be taken may remain a question mark. Here are some definitions by Judges.

“They are applicable at a time when risk of collision can be avoided, not when risk of collision is constituted”.

” They only apply at a time when, if either ship does anything contrary to the rules, it will cause danger of collision”.

Once collision has become imminent, departure from these rules is justified and in fact required especially if it is the only option to avert collision. A departure is also justified where obedience to a rule would place a ship in immediate danger of running aground, or of sustaining other marine casualty.

Risk of collision increases in relation to frequency of encounter with other vessels. With today’s seaborne traffic, sizes and speeds of ships, Master and or duty officer have no time to think and reason out what they must do in any situation at any one time, because action may have to be instant. Therefore they must rely on their fine tuned in-built intuition to guide them what to do, and make instantaneous decisions to give that one order which may make the difference between collision and safety.

Case no 6

Following words of an American Judge are to the point: –

“Under the brilliant ray of considered hindsight, counsel for each party has laid before the court a superb analysis of what action each vessel should have taken. Unfortunately, Masters of these two vessels did not have their able assistance available to them on the night of April 16, 1964.”

Breach of the regulations:

In most countries, a vessel not equipped as per the rules can be prevented from proceeding to sea and any wilful infringement of the rules by master or owner is an offence punishable by law, even if no accident has occurred.

Case No 7

In a recent case decided on 8th of April 2002, Folkestone Magistrates fined Owner and skipper of trawler Honeybourne Ill a total of £ 6000, plus £ 3110 in costs, for contravening rules 10(b) i and 10(c) of collision regulations even though there was no collision.

Apportionment of responsibility

In the nineteenth century, in every case of joint fault, courts apportioned half damages out of a collision to each ship. Now they allocate percentage wise responsibility based on comparative fault. Thus if ship A is 75% to blame, his liability to ship B is 75% of B’s damages and ship B’s liability becomes 25% of damages of ship A, which may be more in quantity than liability of ship A to B.

A navigator is not liable if a collision is not caused by his negligence or when there with collision regulations or when he exercised reasonable was no failure to comply with collision regulations or when he exercised reasonable skill and care and followed ordinary practice of seamen. But he cannot be allowed to claim that the collision was inevitable, when he was negligent and failed to take proper action to avoid a close quarter situation at an earlier stage and at the last moment it was not possible for him to avoid collision by exercise of due diligence. reasonable care and ordinary practice of seamen.

A vessel can be held partly to blame if, as stand on vessel she did nothing to attract attention of the give way vessel under rule 34(D) or failed to take action under rule 17.

Case no 8

The LOCH MELFORT and JALADHIR were on crossing courses in the North Sea. involving risk of collision. Loch Melfort was the stand-on vessel. Jaladhir. with North Sea Pilot on board was not taking timely action to keep clear. This was obvious to Loch Melfort, but the stand on vessel failed to sound or flash or give any warning signal.

Admiralty Court in UK held that Loch Melfort should have sounded a warning signal and therefore also held the stand on vessel partly to blame. Here Jaladhir escaped total liability, even when she was in breach of the regulations, only because the other vessel should have sounded requisite warning signal prescribed under the rules.

Case no.9

M.V. Setubal and M.T Estrella collided off Cape St Vincent in fine weather and good visibility. Setubal was south bound on course 135° navigating wrongly in northbound traffic lane at 12.5 knots. She altered course to 125°. When Cape St. Vincent was abeam to her port two miles off; even though she knew that she was a stand on vessel because Estrella was three miles distant, showing her green light. 2.5 minutes before collision, Setubal altered more rapidly to port to 085′. with Estrella only a mile away and despite continuing to see the oncoming vessel’s green side light. Under the rules, she should have kept her course and speed being the stand on vessel right from the start when Estrella was 3 miles off.

Estrella was steering 302° at 13.5 knots. She was in her correct traffic lane, and altered to starboard under the rules, eight minutes before collision, to give way to the oncoming Setubal after seeing her red light to own vessel’s green light. She ordered her helm to Hard Starboard two minutes before collision when she was steering 326°. With half a minute to spare, Estrella ordered hard to Port because collision was imminent. Setubal was badly holed & sank. Estrella was damaged.

it was claimed on behalf of Estrella that Setubal was to blame. She was navigating in wrong traffic lane in a traffic separation scheme area. She was stand-on ship in a crossing situation. She did not keep her course and speed under rule 17 (a), She altered more to port against Rule 17 (c) when Estrella was showing her red light ahead.

Mr. Justice Brandon held that Estrella should have made larger and quicker alteration eight minutes before collision and her engines should have been put full astern same time her rudder was put hard starboard. But good seamanship required that rudder should not have been changed to Hard Port. This way, even if collision could not have been avoided, angle of blow would have been narrowed and made more acute to reduce damage.

Setubal was also held to be at fault because having green light of the Estrella on her port bow, she should have kept her course at 135° and not altered at that point of time just to stick to the course line laid on the chart. Her action to turn further 085° was completely wrong.

This Collision was entirely self-created. Firstly the Setubal was navigating in the wrong traffic lane, even though that factor did not cause the collision. Secondly, the Duty officer altered his course to 125° just to stick to his course line laid on the chart. He further prejudiced his position by more alteration to port. Duty officer of the Estrella should have realised that while his ship was swinging to Starboard under full helm, it would take her considerable time and distance to neutralise that swing to Starboard under full Port helm before she could start swinging to Port. That action aggravated the situation.

Case no.10

Auriga/Manuel Campos

Manuel Campos was steering 230° at 12.5 Knots and altered to 205°. When Cape Villano light was abeam Auriga was on 212° & 14 Knots gaining on Manuel Campos, diverging at angle of 7°. Master of Manual Campos saw the two white masthead lights and red side light of Auriga about 10° off the starboard quarter three miles off. He assumed that Auriga was overtaking. With Auriga less than two points abaft her stbd beam, 2.25 miles off, Manuel Campos, also altered to 181 ° On these new courses, both vessels were converging by 24° and risk of collision existed. 23 minutes later, Auriga bore half point abaft the beam from Manuel Campos. Soon they collided.

It was claimed in court on behalf of Manual Campos that because originally Auriga was bearing more than two points abaft her beam and was proceeding faster than the Manual Canpos, she was an overtaking vessel.

Auriga replied that under Rule 24 she would become an overtaking vessel only if risk of collision existed. Such risk of collision only arose when Auriga altered course from 212°to 181° and the two vessels became crossing vessels so as to involve risk of collision under Rule 15, which applied from that point of time onwards. Therefore Manual Campos was to keep out of the way.

Mr. Justice Brandon held that this was not an overtaking situation. Rule 13 pertaining to overtaking vessels applied only when there was risk of collision between two vessels. In this case they were diverging by 7 Degrees. Crossing situation-involving risk of collision arose after both ships altered courses and they were converging at angle of 24 degrees, with Manuel Campos the give-way ship and Auriga the stand-on ship.

Even though Crossing situation with risk of collision arose entirely through Auriga’s action, fault of Manuel Campos in failing to give way under rule 15, was greater than fault of Auriga. Note: Above collision took place in 1973 when present collision regulations were not yet in force. Since contents of rules governing conduct of these two vessels were more or less the same, rule numbers given above refer to the new rules.

Good lookout.

Ordinary practice of seaman is to keep a good look out. In old days a good look out meant to see and hear physically. Today, to keep a good look out the watch-keeping officer should not only watch and hear physically, but also gather information from all instruments available on the bridge.

One of the most valuable instruments to prevent collision at sea is Radar. But Study of many collisions cases on ships with fully operational Radar shows that either the duty officer did not use the Radar in heavy traffic or he was not able to read and interpret the information it provided as to course speed and CPA competently. Or he was overconfident of Radar information. Or he failed to keep watch outside physically.

Case No.11
In the Anna Salen,” Mr. Justice Willmer said: –

“I should like to add a footnote as it has been a somewhat unusual case. This is an unhappy case of collision between two well-found ships, equipped with all modern aids to navigation, including Radar. It is a melancholy reflection that probably collision would not have happened if they had not been radar equipped. Scientific installations particularly RADAR, are potentially most valuable to increase safety at sea only if they are intelligently used and interpreted by officers responsible for working them. That is another way of saying that a good lookout must be maintained.

This collision ought never have happened, if both vessels had made intelligent use of scientific instruments with which they were equipped.”

Some examples of Bad Lookout.

Case No 12

A large container vessel ran aground on Sudbury Reef of Great Barrier Reef, while transiting an area that does not require a Pilot under International Treaty Obligations. Second officer was talking to his wife on cell phone & not keeping a good lookout while navigating the Ship.

A Swedish vessel was astern of a Russian vessel in Dover Strait. 2nd officer allowed lookout to leave the bridge and left the bridge himself. Master apparently condoned the practice of letting them leave the bridge for considerable periods. Overtaking vessel collided with the stern of the vessel ahead. UK Maritime & Coast Guard agency prosecuted 2nd Mate and Master for contravening Collision Regulations by failing to keep a proper lookout. They were convicted on Jan 5, 1999 for their part in a collision that occurred while both the 2nd Mate and lookout were away from the Bridge.

Case No.13

Eventhia K v Har Sinai.

Before change of watch in the morning, chief officer of Har Sinai, steering 103′ at 13.5 knots on automatic in clear weather, saw Eventhia K wide on her Port bow, and estimated distance to be about six miles without the use of Radar.

At about the change of watch, this relative bearing was constant but range closed to about three miles still without use of Radar. When acting Third Mate relieved chief officer, he advised him that Evanthia K was on parallel course, and that relative bearing was opening to port.

Seven minutes before collision, when the acting third officer of Har Sinai found that the vessels were not on parallel courses and that his ship was in fact overtaking the slower Eventhia K, he altered 50 Deg to port without a sound signal, obviously to pass under Evanthia K’s stern.

At 0810 on seeing the Evanthia K right ahead through the porthole of his cabin, Captain of Har Sinai, rushed to the bridge, ordered stop engine, Hard Stbd and one short blast. Within two minutes, Port bow of Har Sinai struck stbd side of Evanthia K with force.

Note. Change of watch. Acting 3rd officer on Bridge. (Perhaps Uncertified) He was wrongly advised by chief officer about the ships being on parallel courses without using the fully functional Radar on board, and without plotting relative positions of the ships.

Apparently Chief Officer and Master had no confidence in the ability of Acting Third officer to keep an effective Navigation watch on the Bridge. Hence chief officer’s callous way of handing over watch and master’s instantaneous intervention without correctly assessing the situation. Had Master not intervened, his vessel would have passed safely under the stern of the overtaken vessel, under 3rd Mate’s action to alter 50°to port.

STCW requirements

STCW Convention has now stipulated and clarified responsibilities on the bridge at change of watch and at other times. STCW also stipulates that duty officer remains responsible for safe navigation of the ship even if Master is on the bridge unless he has been expressly relieved by the Master. Of course, in this case, since the duty officer may have been uncertified it was theoretically Master’s watch. Also Master by his instantaneous action relieved the duty officer of his responsibility.

Case no.14

Ever Decent v Norwegian Dream

Cruise ship Norwegian Dream had container vessel Ever Decent on her Stbd. But she was also overtaking a vessel on HER stbd . This prevented her from altering to stbd to keep clear of the overtaken vessel under rule 13. She had another ship on her port side on collision course at predicted time of 0051. This obliged her to keep her course and speed under rule 17. This approaching vessel altered course at 0042 under rule 15, when 2.5 miles away.

Ever Decent was overtaking a ship on HER stbd. hence her duty to keep clear under rule 13. She also had to give way to another crossing vessel o under rule 15.
She was to keep her course and speed for Norwegian Dream. (Rule 17)

Vessel being overtaken by Ever Decent altered to port at 0048 to go round stern of Ever Decent presumably on a request of the overtaking vessel . Ever Decent also requested Norwegian Dream to alter boldly to Stbd to pass astern of the vessel SHE was overtaking .Had Norwegian Dream complied, she may have collided with vessel which she could not even see at that time. Norwegian Dream and Ever Decent collided at 0055 on 24.8.1999 in fair weather and good visibility.

Inquiry committee found that both ships were owned by well-respected owners, and manned to full International Conventions and standards.

Norwegian Dream did not have a North Sea Pilot on board and only 2nd officer was on her bridge. He used ARPA on both Radar sets, on 10cm, and 3cm wavelengths using true vectors. Possibly he mistook the vectors displayed on his ARPA, which led him to believe that Ever Decent would pass half mile ahead of him. Had he used relative vector on one display for anti collision plotting, to determine risk of Collision he may have been more successful to avoid colliding with her.

Quantum of information with which 00W had to cope in high-density traffic area, including use of two ARPAS and VHF, became overwhelming for a single duty officer. Also a rating that came to the bridge to get him to sign on the garbage disposal book distracted his attention at a crucial time.

Ever Decent had North Sea Pilot on board. She cannot absolve herself totally of blame. Her movements are known only from shore based Radar Plot. She could have taken avoiding action under rule 17, after the vessel she was overtaking, altered to Port to go round her stern as per her request. At that point of time, HER starboard side was free for her to avoid this collision. This does not alter the fact that in such close quarters situation, action was required by both vessels. In the final analysis, even with hindsight it is hard to see a simple solution to the situation, which faced both these ships except that in such crowded waters each vessel should have avoided overtaking a vessel on HER Stbd, which made it difficult for them to act under Rule 17.

Case no.15

Collision of a large container ship with a trawler in Dover Strait is attributed to speed of 18 knots in fog. The trawler was not seen on either of the two radar Screens because of clutter etc. In the Lady Gwendolen Case the Court of Appeals had said that excessive speed in fog is a grave breach of duty. Under MSA 1996 of the UK, owner operator and Master are guilty of such offence.

Case No.16

In recent collision case, a 100000 DWT vessel at 14 knots saw a fishing trawler on port side visually and on Radar, seven miles away with CPA of one mile. 00W altered course two degree to starboard but CPA did not broaden.

In a few minutes, ships were very close. All of a sudden, the trawler seemed to pick up his trawl turn almost 180 degrees and head straight for the big vessel. At that time the second officer ordered hard starboard. Collision took place just forward of the slop tank in the vicinity of the stern of the big ship causing considerable damage. Question is why should the trawler turn 180 degrees and gun for the big ship.

Answer may lie in interaction and suction. We have to remember disparity of sizes between a 100000 tonner and a small trawler. Second officer altered only two degrees, which was not enough to give the trawler a wide berth. The last minute order of Hard starboard was certainly wrong. If the trawler was so close, the right order should have been hard port to take the stern away from the trawler and prevent the trawler from getting sucked in.

Use of VHF in close vicinity of ships

Inappropriate use of VHF radio has also been known to contribute to a collision. Identification of vessels at night, in restricted visibility or when there are more than two vessels in the vicinity, can rarely be guaranteed. Bad understanding of language used on VHF can also lead to problems. An imprecise or ambiguously expressed or understood message could have serious consequences.

Course of action chosen as a consequence of an agreement on VHF, which does not comply with collision regulations can, not only lead to a collision it was intended to avoid, but also to adverse legal consequences there after. In 1995, a judge in a collision case said,” It is probable that the use of VHF was a contributory cause of collision. It distracted the officers from paying careful attention to Radar. Although there is practice of using VHF radio, especially in pilotage waters, it should be clearly understood that collision regulations must be complied with.”

Duty to stand-by after collision:

Unclos Art 98c requires both ships to render assistance to each other and their crews against any danger caused by collision but without danger to own vessel, crew and passengers. Each vessel must stand-by until it is ascertained that the other has no need of further assistance.

Duty to standby is discharged once master of other vessel makes it clear that she does not need help, or she has been abandoned, or is sinking, or has sunk. Both Masters must exchange, names and flags of their vessels, ports of registry and ports of departure and destination.

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