Ship breaks 5 rules, loses 6 men

On 6 March 1999, the People’s Republic of China container ship Xing Long was travelling at 6 knots in dense fog, just off the Ninepin Group on the southeast side of Hong Kong.  The Chief Officer of the Xing Long observed a ship on the radar right ahead at 6 miles, on a nearly reciprocal course.  He first tried in vain to contact the unidentified ship by VHF radio.  He then made a succession of small alterations of course to starboard to avoid collision.  The other ship, subsequently identified as a PRC cargo ship, Quan Tai, made an alteration of course to port.  The vessels collided and the Quan Tai sank, killing six of her eight man crew.  Which rules were violated?  Did the Chief Officer take appropriate action?

Not maintaining a proper lookout by all available means (Rule 5), especially operational radar in fog (Rule 7), was considered to be the main cause of the collision.  The obligation to maintain a proper lookout is the first and most important step in avoiding collisions, as the other vessel must be detected before any of the other steering and sailing rules can be implemented!  It is clear that Quan Tai failed to maintain a proper lookout and to use her radar equipment properly to obtain early warning of risk of collision, give the appropriate sound signal in restricted visibility, and avoid making an alteration of course to port (Rules 5, 7, 8, 19, and 35). 

However, the Chief Officer of the Xing Long also violated the COLREGS, failing to maintain a proper lookout (rule 5), to use his radar equipment to obtain early warning of risk of collision (rule 7), and failing to make a large alteration of course to starboard and/or large reduction in speed in ample time to keep well clear of the Quan Tai (rule 8).  In addition, the action taken to avoid collision was delayed by the attempt to contact the other vessel via VHF radio.  The use of VHF radio in collision avoidance is not recommended; the time would have been better spent in altering course and using sound signals to alert the other vessel.

Source: Government of Hong Kong, Marine Department, Marine Accident Investigation Branch

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