A report into a near miss involving two ropaxes at Rosslare in Ireland was recently published by the Irish Marine Casualty Investigation Branch (MCIB).
During the morning of 16 March 2022, just outside the breakwater of Rosslare Harbour, two large ropaxes suffered a close quarter incident, during which they passed about 100 m apart.
The inbound vessel ‘Connemara’ was arriving from Bilbao in Spain. She was scheduled to arrive at 08.15 hours but arrived early and was asked by Rosslare Port Control to wait outside the harbour in the vicinity of West Holdens buoy.
Meanwhile, the outbound vessel ‘Stena Europe’ was due to sail for Fishguard in the UK at 07.30 hrs.
‘Connemara’ did not follow the instructions from Rosslare Harbour Control and instead of holding her position proceeded towards the breakwater. ‘Stena Europe’ was given permission to sail and left the berth unaware that ‘Connemara’ was approaching.
The two vessels met just off the breakwater. Both vessels had to take action to avoid a collision resulting in the close quarter situation.
In its report, MCIB claimed that the ’Connemara’s bridge team failed to follow instructions from Rosslare Port Control and instead proceeded directly towards the port knowing that another vessel was outbound.
Although she was the ‘stand on’ vessel under the IRPCS and therefore obliged to maintain course and speed in a crossing situation where risk of collision existed, under IRPCS; Rule 17 (a) (ii) the option was available to ‘Connemara’ at any time to alter course and/or speed.
Rule 17 (a) (ii) states that as soon as it becomes apparent that the give way vessel, in this case the outbound vessel ‘Stena Europe’, was not taking appropriate action, the ‘stand on’ vessel may take action.
In his statement, the ‘Connemara’s Master said he was unclear of the intentions of the outbound vessel. This uncertainty is also evident from the VHF conversation at 07.28 hrs where the inbound vessel asks the outbound vessel if it is going to alter to starboard or cross ahead.
Given this uncertainty, the ‘Connemara’ should have taken greater action, and taken it much earlier, in order to avoid this close quarter situation. Further to this, under the IRPCS; Rule 2 (b), the inbound vessel could have at any time, altered course and/or speed as necessary as the rule specifically allows for a departure from the rules to “avoid immediate danger”.
The inbound vessel could have avoided the situation entirely by utilising the deepwater to the north of West Holdens buoy to manoeuvre while waiting for the outbound vessel to clear the channel, therefore, avoiding any possibility of a close quarter situation developing.
This could have been communicated to the inbound vessel by Rosslare Port Control had the duty Port Controller noticed that the inbound vessel was not following his advice.
It was evident from the VDR recording and conflicting statements received from the ‘Connemara’s bridge team that communications were extremely poor leading to a situation where there was uncertainty as to who was in control of the situation.
It was further evident from the ‘Connemara’ VDR recording and from the bridge team statements that planning, in particular contingency planning, among the bridge team was severely lacking.
The outbound vessel was in a position to have avoided this close quarter situation. It is evident from its VDR recording that it was concerned about its sailing time and not being held up by the early arrival of ‘Connemara’.
This may have affected the decision making process and caused the officers to overlook the progress of the inbound vessel in an eagerness to sail on schedule.
The final decision to depart the berth is down to the Master of the vessel. This is reflected in the SMS, which states that the Master must ensure all statutory requirements are complied with.
This includes the IRPCS, which requires keeping a lookout at all times.
‘Stena Europe’s bridge team did not comply with this. In addition, Rosslare Port Control should have been able to manage this situation and to ensure that arriving and departing vessel do not have to worry about close quarter situations off the entrance to the harbour.
Arriving and departing vessels should not end up in a situation where they have to contact each other on VHF to arrange passing, MCIB said. The duty Port Controller was also engaged in other duties in addition to his VTS duties.
He could not have been completely focused on the vessels manoeuvring in and off the port.
The Port Controller had no maritime qualifications or training and therefore could not be expected to fully appreciate the manoeuvrability of the vessels operating in and out of the port.
A lack of training and maritime experience meant that the Port Controller could not have anticipated the seriousness or potential consequences of allowing a situation such as this to develop.
For a port that handles over 30 sailings per week, the qualifications and training required to be a Port Controller at Rosslare were very low. There were no maritime or VTS qualifications required and held by the Port Controllers, nor was there any legislation requiring such.
In-house training for all controllers at Rosslare consists of shadowing existing Port Controllers for a two-week period. The only VTS or maritime experience the existing Port Controllers have is from working in Rosslare Port Control. The existing Port Controllers do not have any VTS or maritime qualifications, nor do they have any formal training qualifications to assist with the process of training a new Port Controller.
The lack of training and maritime experience made it very difficult for the Port Controller to fully appreciate the potential consequences of allowing a close quarter situation to develop.
MCIB made several safety recommendations. For example, Stena Marine Management was advised to ensure the bridge teams understand the importance of bridge resource management and highlight to the crews the dangers of lack of communication, in particular during port entry and departure.
The ‘Connemara’s’ bridge team officers have all since attended a Bridge Resource Management course.
Also MCIB asked that Stena conduct an investigation to ascertain why ‘Connemara’ failed to follow advice from Rosslare Port Control and amend its SMS appropriately in light of any findings.
Stena Marine Management’s investigation into this incident concluded that a lack of communication between the bridge team was responsible for the vessel not following the advice from Rosslare Port Control.
In addition, an audit should be conducted on its system of training and familiarisation for new Masters to ensure it is fit for purpose and clearly identifies who is in charge of the vessel at all times.
Stena Line UK was asked to review its bridge procedures for departure and ensure that a member of the bridge team is designated as being clearly responsible for ensuring that, in all respects, it is safe to leave the berth before leaving go of all lines.
Stena Line has since advised the MCIB that it has reviewed and amended the departure procedures.
Advice should be issued to its vessels affirming that the safety of the vessel takes priority over rigidly adhering to a sailing schedule, and that the Master has the overriding authority and the responsibility to make decisions with respect to safety and pollution prevention.
Meanwhile, Rosslare Harbour should amend the working arrangements for the Port Control staff to ensure that when vessels are moving in or near the harbour that the duty controller cannot be distracted by other tasks, such as monitoring road traffic or the loading of other vessels.
Arrival and departure procedures should be amended to reflect this.
The port should also immediately introduce training for port controllers in line with recognised international standards.
Finally, the Minister for Transport and the Irish Maritime Administration should consider legislation to ensure that personnel working in safety critical roles, such as VTS or Harbour Control, have suitable training and qualifications for the position.
The IMO guidelines in resolution A.1158/32 should be taken into account when considering legislation on VTS.