The New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission has issued a report into the cruise ship ‘L’Austral’ , which hit a rock near Snares Islands in January, 2017.
‘L’Austral’ was a French-registered passenger vessel that was sailing on a 16-night cruise of New Zealand’s South Island, including its sub-Antarctic islands.
On 7th January, 2017 she sailed from Lyttelton with 200 passengers and 156 crew on board, bound for the Snares Islands, south of New Zealand.
’L’Austral’ arrived off the Snares Islands early on the morning of 9th January, 2017. The passengers spent the morning in rigid-hulled inflatable boats, observing the wildlife. That afternoon the weather became unsuitable for small-boats, so the ship manoeuvred to pick them up in the sheltered water to the south of the islands.
While the Master was focused on manoeuvring the ship to facilitate the safe recovery of the boats, the ship drifted into a 300 m unauthorised zone, where it contacted an uncharted rock, piercing the hull in an empty void tank, which flooded with water.
The damaged compartment had little effect on the ship’s stability, and the ship was able to continue to another sub-Antarctic island before returning to New Zealand for temporary repairs. Nobody was injured in the incident.
The commission found that ‘L’Austral’ inadvertently entered the 300 m unauthorised zone, which the ship was not permitted to enter and in which the charts noted the existence of overfalls, eddies and breakers.
The uncharted rock was in an area that the commission considered was not suitable for the safe navigation of ships the size of ‘L’Austral’.
It was also found that the activity to recover the ship’s rigid-hulled inflatable boats was not well planned, that the ship’s position was not being adequately monitored and that the standard of bridge resource management on board the ship did not meet good industry practice.
Three safety issues were identified in the report:
– The voyage planning for the time in the Snares Islands and the standard of bridge resource management on the bridge leading up to the contact did not meet the IMO standards or follow the guidelines published in other leading industry publications.
– The operation of ‘L’Austral’s’ electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS) did not meet good practice as defined in the IMO guidance or the standards set out in the operator’s safety management system.
– The NZ Department of Conservation had insufficient maritime expertise applied to assessing the risks to ships and the environment.
The Commission made two recommendations to the operator to address the safety issues regarding the standards of voyage planning, the bridge resource management, and the training and use of ECDIS.
It also made one recommendation to the director general of the NZ Department of Conservation that, given the potentially harsh and sensitive environment in the sub-Antarctic islands and the likelihood that shipping activity will increase in future, a suitably qualified person be appointed to manage the safety of navigation in the sub-Antarctic islands.
The key lessons arising from this inquiry were:
– An ECDIS is a valuable aid to navigation. However, mariners need to understand fully and be familiar with all aspects of the system, otherwise relying on the system as a primary means of navigation can contribute to, rather than prevent, accidents.
– Every part of a ship’s voyage must be planned, and all members of the bridge team must be fully familiar with and agree to the plan. This is a cornerstone of good bridge resource management.
– Good bridge resource management relies on a culture where challenge is welcomed and responded to, regardless of rank, personality or nationality.