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An expensive cup of tea…

A 14.5m gill netter reaches her intended fishing grounds in the North Sea.  The time is 0200, weather calm with fog.  The skipper, alone on watch, disengages the engine, switches on two all-round red lights in a vertical line, switches off the steaming lights, and switches on the deck lights.  He then goes below to make a cup of tea and call the crew to prepare for fishing.  As he returns to the wheelhouse about 10 minutes later, a 37m beam trawler, trawling at 6 knots, collides with the gill netter.  Neither skipper had been aware of the risk of collision at the moment of impact, but who was at fault?  What was the significance of the gill netter’s lights?  Were they legal?

The collision occurred due to the fact that no avoiding action was taken by either the gill netter or the beam trawler.  As neither watchkeeper was aware of the presence of the other or the risk of collision, it is clear that no proper lookout was being kept by other vessel (Rule 5).  The skipper of the gill netter was not only violating rule 5 (a proper lookout must be kept from every vessel under way, even when stopped and making no way), but his decision to display the lights of a vessel not under command because he had gone below to boil the kettle was a gross abuse of the Collision Regulations.  Rule 3 defines a vessel not under command as a vessel which through some exceptional circumstance is unable to manoeuvre.  Boiling the kettle does not qualify!  In addition, neither vessel was making sound signals despite the conditions of restricted visibility, a violation of Rule 35.

Source: Marine Accident Investigation Branch, UK

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