On the evening of 20 December 2009 the Singapore registered bulk carrier Alam Pintar collided with the UK registered fishing vessel Etoile des Ondes, 15 nm north of the Cherbourg peninsula. As a result of the collision, the fishing vessel sank with the loss of one of her four crew. There was only cosmetic damage to Alam Pintar.
Alam Pintar ’s bridge was manned by an inexperienced officer of the watch (OOW) and a cadet, in contravention of the company’s orders and STCW requirements to post a qualified lookout. The OOW had seen the fishing vessel, visually and by radar, and assessed there was a risk of collision, but the actions he took were insubstantial and rendered ineffective by Etoile des Ondes changing course while shooting pots.
After the collision, the surviving crew from Etoile des Ondes managed to get into their liferaft and fire two red parachute distress rockets. It is disturbing that only three of the many vessels in the area responded to these flares, or the subsequent “Mayday Relay” broadcasts made by Jobourg MRCC. This is in direct contravention of the requirements of SOLAS Chapter V, Regulation 33:
“Master of a ship at sea which is in a position to be able to provide assistance, on receiving information from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance, if possible informing them or the search and rescue service that the ship is doing so. This obligation to provide assistance applies regardless of the nationality or status of such persons or the circumstances in which they are found. If the ship receiving the distress alert is unable or, in the special circumstances of the case, considers it unreasonable or unnecessary to proceed to theirassistance, the master must enter in the log book the reason for failing to proceed to the assistance of the persons in distress, taking into account the recommendation of the Organisation to inform the appropriate search and rescue service accordingly.”
Several vessels wrongly assumed that they did not need to offer their services, and waited to be called to help. On others, the OOW took the decision not to respond and did not inform the master.
The surviving crew were rescued by a ferry whose OOW had sighted the flares and responded after calling the master.
- Bridge Resource Management on Alam Pintar was poor, the owners had provided an extra watchkeeping officer but he was inexperienced and not intended to keep watch alone. The cadet was not qualified to act as a lookout. Masters and owners must ensure that watches are maintained by suitably qualified and experienced personnel at all times. Bridge teams should be adjusted according to the expected traffic levels.
- The skipper of Etoile des Ondes was concentrating intently on shooting his pots and was distracted from keeping an effective lookout. He expected other vessels to keep out of his way as he considered himself to be “engaged in fishing”. He did not realise Alam Pintar’s actions had been rendered ineffective by his changes of course, until it was too late. When operations mean the skipper is distracted, then other crew members should help with lookout duties until the skipper can return attention to the keeping of a lookout.
- The masters and OOWs of other vessels close to this distress did not follow correct procedures when receiving a distress broadcast. SOLAS is clear that the master makes the decision on how to respond to any distress broadcast and therefore must be informed. Clear instructions are needed in both company SMS manuals and the master’s standing orders to make sure this procedure is fully understood and followed by all OOWs.
- Owners and masters are reminded it is the master’s legal and moral duty to respond to “Mayday” or “Mayday Relay” broadcasts – no matter how they are received. They should not to wait until called upon, or assume others are better placed to assist.