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Press article: Look out and around

News & Insights 16 June 2014

Written by

Rahul Sapra, Marine Surveyor, comments on the recent upsurge in the number of navigation related incidents seen by the Standard Club and advises on safe navigation

The below article was drafted for Safety4Sea and is reproduced with permission. The original can be found on their website


The Standard P&I Club has seen a recent upsurge in the number of navigation related incidents where the bridge team has failed to take early and positive action in accordance with the COLREGS. Increasingly, emphasis on the lookout is neglected and reliance is given to the electronic aids to navigation.



Recently there has been a spate of collisions which are of particular concern to the insurance industry. Navigational incidents are one of the biggest costs of shipping insurance claims; they are a major cause of environmental pollution and the largest threat to a company's reputation and its commercial health.

Recent notable incidents include:

  • three collisions in Singapore Straits in early 2014 which happened within a space of two weeks;
  • the collision on 5 May between a cargo ship and a container ship off Hong Kong resulting in the cargo ship sinking;
  • the collision between two bulk carriers off Pattaya on 30 March;
  • the collision between a bulk carrier and a barge on 22 March in Houston Channel which resulted in pollution and closure of the channel;
  • the collision in the Dover Strait between a general cargo ship and a crane barge under tow on 11 January and the collision between a general cargo ship and
  • a bulk carrier in the Dover Strait on 11 December last year.

These are all indications that there are serious underlying issues.

The investigations of these incidents are still ongoing, but initial reports suggest human error, poor decision making by the bridge team, improper lookout, non-compliance with collision regulations (COLREGS) and fatigue as major factors. Furthermore, initial investigations on the Korean SEWOL ferry disaster indicate poor navigation and stability issues.


Navigation and the bridge team

There have been many technological developments in the recent past and the IMO has always paid great attention to the improvement of navigational safety. IMO has given a high priority to the "Development of an e-navigation strategy". The aim is to develop a strategic vision for e-navigation, to integrate existing and new navigational tools, in particular electronic tools, in an all-embracing system that will contribute to enhanced navigational safety while simultaneously reducing the burden on the navigator. As the basic technology for such an innovative step is already available, the challenge lies in ensuring that the navigator is trained in using it effectively.

The latest investigation reports from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) for the collision incident involving CMA-CGM FLORIDA and CHOU SHAN, suggest that the VHF radio was inappropriately used for collision avoidance by both vessels to negotiate a manoeuvre that was contrary to the COLREGS. The communication was conducted in Mandarin and was not fully translated into English to enable the officer of the watch on the other vessel to understand what had been tacitly agreed. Standing orders on both vessels lacked specific instructions for when the master was to be called. The use of AIS encouraged the officer of the watch on one vessel to focus on those vessels with the smallest CPA (closest point of approach) or those vessels at short range, at the expense of maintaining a more strategic overview of the traffic situation.

In increasing numbers of incidents, investigations indicate that the bridge team is too engrossed in looking at the ECDIS and ARPA screens, identifying targets on the AIS and taking action contrary to the COLREGS to avoid collision. Ships are relying heavily on the digital navigation aids during restricted visibility and the definition of safe speed is getting blurred. Ships are going faster, even in restricted visibility in a narrow channel. Often, we are seeing cases in which the officer of the watch is not properly looking out of the bridge windows. There is a lack of situational awareness and a lack of perception of the risk. We have to realize that the unfailing techniques like checking the bearing of a target at regular intervals to see if it is opening or staying constant, checking the aspect of another vessel, looking for what lights a vessel is displaying are the basics on which collision regulations are based and these parameters decide what action should be taken to avoid a collision. It is important not to get over confident with the electronic aides available on the bridge and vessels should proceed at a safe speed adapted to the prevailing circumstances.

It is important to use techniques like parallel indexing, visual bearings, cross bearings and wheel over points to check and compare the vessel's position against the electronic aids to navigation and make proper and effective decisions to achieve navigational excellence.

Focus on traditional techniques should not be lost and emphasis should be given to

  • keeping a good look out visually and aurally;
  • checking visual bearings of a target to see if it is changing or constant;
  • use of parallel indexing to monitor one's own ship position;
  • having a good situational awareness and perception of risk;
  • comparing the ship's position by visual and electronic means;
  • using the electronic aids to navigation and integrating them with the traditional techniques;
  • preventing over reliance on any one particular equipment;
  • avoiding the use of VHF to convey a manoeuvre that is conflicting with the COLREGS;
  • having a robust system to carry out navigation audits and look for ways to improve.


With the advancements in technology and the integration of bridge systems, it is imperative that we align and train ourselves for this new era of e-navigation. We should work towards being able to integrate the basic principles of navigation and the collision regulations with the modern day digital aids to navigation to achieve safe navigation while maintaining a proper look OUT.

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