Why can't we speculate about ship incidents?


We should have forums to discuss accidents before the final report comes out in the hopes that the investigators will hear from experienced members of the maritime community and follow leads they might not think of otherwise. Too often the members of investigative panels are people with good intentions and good educations and some experience, but who lack the long hours of mariners who stayed at sea. How many investigators have maneuvered vessels with follow-up and non follow-up steering systems and ask appropriate questions when that might be an issue? How many have walked up on the bridges of strange ships and wondered how they made it up the fairway in heavy traffic with all the console lights at daylight settings and the radars on the 24 mile scale? Would they know to ask those questions or do they come pre-armed with questions about the latest popular cause, fatigue? Master/Pilot conference? There’s good speculation and bad. Good speculation leads to questions being asked that direct investigations in the right direction. In fact, that’s all an investigation is… speculation followed by the gathering of information that will confirm or eliminate a particular line of reasoning. Speculate away, shipmates; but be thoughtful, considerate and polite if you want to be heard.


Captain John, I’m a Navy veteran and I am not offended by your articles, sir. We all know this is not the formal process, just shipmates talking about what happened and how to avoid it on their own voyages. I always find it odd when people who have never worked at sea claim there is no danger involved. The sea is a harsh mistress.

I think a lot of the drama is just “service rivalry”. We all want to think of our team as being the best and we want to promote it and possibly make it better. I think all of us understand that any kind of work on the sea involves extensive training; anybody who’s gone underway for any significant period knows about standing a proper watch, the rules of the road, etc.

Of course, what the Navy does and what Merchant Mariners do are very different. Navy ships are going on missions against terrorists or other enemies, or to deter them, and not necessarily traveling in shipping lanes where they would encounter a significant amount of vessel traffic. Merchant Mariners are delivering goods and services from one busy port to another, across the sea, mainly in established shipping lanes. So it should be expected that what the Navy does in a given situation would be very different from what a Merchant Marine ship does, just as what a submarine would do is different from what a surface combatant ship would do. :slight_smile:


As a mariner with 35+ years experience sailing with international crews. yes including many Filipinos, there is good and bad in all.

The skill as a Master is in bringing the good to the fore whilst losing the bad. The successful shipping Cos, particularly in the Far East, have been doing this for decades.

As Capt John states, the Colregs are the over-arching mandate under which we all sail. However there are regional variations, herd behaviors in which people (bridge teams & vessels) operate.

These are determined by climate, weather, traffic density, topography, legislation and regulation.

The was traffic operates around Japan, as an example, is subtly different to that in Bohai Wan, and totally different to being off, say, Santa Barbara.

The Merchant Mariners live and breathe in these conditions every day, every watch.

Yes, STCW dictates that vessels have a minimum manning certificate, but in the commercial world the ship managers, who survive on the crumbs off the owners table, see it as a maximum manning certificate. And, yes, there can be dispensations from flag to sail below that.

This means that bridge teams have to work efficiently and communicate effectively. You know what the traffic is doing and you develop a sixth sense, a ‘feel’ for what is happening and what is going to develop.

This is not learnt in a classroom but by bridge time in trafficked areas.

Seeing some naval vessels I wondered how much sea and watch time the guys get.

Yes they are trained to the N’th degree, but training is not doing. Career ambitions and a structure that is a self-supporting hierarchy means that, as was said in a company that I once worked for, people rise to the level of their incompetence

I have been in Bahrain and observed naval vessels where the bridge teams exceeded the entire complement of my 20,000 ton vessel.

With such large teams the message will be lost or corrupted, certainly delayed, and with every player being a small component the corporate responsibility is fractured into many small components. Thus the importance, value, pride & professionalism is also watered down.

When it foes well, all well and good, when it fails it falls apart and quickly.

Also, when looking at these huge bridge teams, the acronym soup that is the used on Naval vessels is incomprehensible to the average merchantman, particularly in Asia.

The IMO published the Standard Marine Communication Phrases (SCMP) as a common sense simple marine English that allows international seafarers to communicate effectively and concisely. By and large it works and it is the standard that STCW officers are examined. The only people not to use it seem to be the Naval community, of whatever flag.

Gcaptain serves the industry as a forum for those with a common interest in the professional mariners interest, with participants from many backgrounds and career paths. (In my Fathers House there are many Mansions)

That is / has made it such a respected resource in a relatively short time.

As the participants do have a vast breadth of experience then factors, perspectives, that investigators to incidents may have missed may be brought to light.

It is not about apportioning blame, it is about the how and the why.

Mariners will always speculate about maritime incidents. For anyone who has been at sea it is the nature of the job, you don’t want to be the next statistic.


I think the number one reason it is important to speculate is to immediately bring the potential causes into the spotlight on order to prevent potential reoccurence.

Yes, the final investigators reports on any incident will no doubt be more accurate and more comprehensive than any speculation or theories here… But it takes a lot of time for those investigations to be carried out.

If areas of concern or potential causes are raised in the interim by industry professionals, what harm comes from this? - All it takes is one comment from someone who had seen something very similar occur, or someone who decides to check something on their own ship after reading about the experience of another; while waiting for that ‘official’ report, and that could be enough to prevent the same thing from happening again, and even save lives.

To highlight this delay, which is in no way a criticism of the department, the UK Government’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) published an investigation report this month (June 2017) into an incident which occurred in March of 2015.

It takes a lot of time for a serious and credible investigatory report to establish all the facts. However, the informal discussions i’ve had with other mariners over the last two years since the incident I’m referring to, including a lot of speculation, have most certainly improved the safety aspects of similar operations when I’m at sea.

Speculation and conjecture of an incident encourages those with relevant knowledge, experience and ideas to share. We must all simply remain critical of what we’re reading.


Speaking as someone who is mostly a consumer of speculation, I find the discussion of potential causal factors by informed parties to be very valuable. The “my experience is more valuable than your experience” stuff, not so much.

I also think that open discussion of these incidents is a valuable part of the historical record. It seems like our society becomes more litigious and politicized every day. Official investigations are subject to all manner of pressures and attempts to skew the results in one way or another, especially when the “blame game” is in full swing. All of the Deepwater Horizon investigations were flawed in one way or another. And if you read the El Faro docket you come away with the impression of apparent self-dealing given the way Parties In Interest were given membership in NTSB working groups. (To this day I do not understand why the VP of HR for TOTE was a member of the NTSB Human Performance group).

Given that, I think it is important that other, knowledgeable voices go on the record so that future historians can weigh the official record in a larger context.




If you are talking about Mike Carr’s editorial then, I agree, we all have our biases… which is why I specifically asked Mike Carr to write a response to my editorial. If you read his biography at the end it states that he also was a “He is a former US Navy Diving & Salvage Officer”… he has also sailed Merchant Marine and USCG.

So, while I understand your point… I don’t know how to find someone less biased than Mike.


My personal feeling is that speculation before the full facts are known can lead to a conviction that the speculation is correct whereas the full facts may later prove that the speculation was well - just speculation. I remember many years ago two ships collided inbound and outbound in the tight channel into Felixstowe UK - how can that happen , both ships were familiar with the channel but that particular day the tide level was unusually low and one of the ships bottomed the side of the channel and caused it to swerve into the other ship.I can’t remember what the speculation was at the time but I doubt it reflected the true facts that emerged later.


Move to strke, that is pure speculation.


We can. The Navy doesn’t want us to.


There was a discussion somewhere in another thread about the “who” that was on the bridge to bridge radio.
As a former Coastie, I had seen first hand what was involved in “special Sea Detail”, and regular watches.
There was also discussions about the radar and its operator, and what the OOD might be doing as the situation progressed.

The most experienced people are usually NOT the people presenting information to the OOD, who did not usually do the manual operating of the various equipment.

I didn’t respond or speculate, because those observations are very dated.


Looking at these incidents, along with any others like the El Faro makes me a firm believer in the statement
"There but for the grace of God, go I"

I’ve done my share of stupid mistakes and been in marginally acceptable situations to want to truly learn from the Dock Committee and their speculation.

Experience is something you don’t get until JUST after you need it.


Don’t understand your reply could you please explain


It’s a joke. It is what a lawyer might say to a judge when a witness said “I can’t remember what the speculation was at the time but I doubt it reflected the true facts that emerged later.”

If the “true facts” did in fact “emerge later” there will be a record of those facts as well as records of the speculation that preceded. What someone can’t remember but believes might not match reality is not something on which to base a decision or conclusion about the reality.

That quote is a textbook example of pure speculation … “I can’t remember but I doubt (such and such happened)”

It’s a joke son …


Thanks for the explanation.Clear as mud👍


Can’t speak to the surface, but with submarines, when you talk to us on the radio, you’re talking to the OOD. He (or, now, she) is on the bridge (up in the sail) when running on the surface, or in Control, standing on the raised platform with the periscopes, when submerged. In both cases, s/he has the B2B right there next to them, and you are speaking to them. :smile:


Some good insight here , thank you!

As mentioned, I have a long list of reasons why speculation by professionals is a good thing but… the primary reason why we publish these editorials has not been mentioned.

Apathy: Insensibility to suffering or emotion; passionless existence; lack of interest or emotion; stolid indifference.

More important than the investigation results, more important than debates held at the IMO or industry conferences, more important than professional review boards, more important (at least to us in the commercial sector) than the US Navy itself… is the communication and sharing of ideas and knowledge between maritime professionals. This includes ideas that will lead to improvements in all aspects of our jobs (e.g. safety, performance, job retention, career advancement, incident avoidance) and communication of problems (e.g. the airing of dirty laundry), things that are working right (sometimes we publish critical articles with the intention of allowing our readers to come to the defense of the industry), information, knowledge and the ideas we (and by “we” I really mean YOU) have for improvements.

But this industry is diverse in every way imaginable (e.g. geographically, culturally, socioeconomically, educationally…) which makes communication challenging. Further complicating the issue is the fact that this industry - by its very nature - is comprised by head strong and independent individuals working in an industry that values very traditional/conservative thinking.

The fact is that we publish the incident reports of major incidents when they are published but the majority of our readers are apathetic. Google tracks the number of pageviews and basic reader demographics of every article we publish and we know from these statistics that a majority of maritime professionals read gCaptain. Google also tracks the scroll down rate and time spent reading each article and articles written about final incident reports are among the least read articles we publish.

What does this tell us?

Most in our industry read gCaptain and most do not read the summaries we publish about final incident investigations… and if they aren’t willing to ready a two page summary they certainly aren’t reading the entire 100+ page investigation report. I wish we could change this, I wish we had some way of compelling people to read the entire investigation reports but the sad fact is that we don’t. People just don’t care about the event a 1+ year after it happened.

I could speak at length about the psychology behind this apathy but the fact is that people have a very high desire/need for information when an incident happens and very low desire for it a year later. The simple (and unfortunate!) fact is gCaptian is about the sharing of information, knowledge and ideas within the industry… but we can not force everyone to give a danm… so we have to take hold of this opportunity when we can.

p.s. Yes, early speculation by both editors and forum members, means that information about the actual event is sometimes wrong (not as wrong as some people think because wrong information is usually corrected by other readers) but information about the industry, our strengths, our weaknesses, our problems is usually important and on target. And incidents fill our heads with good ideas and solutions. Ideas and solutions that will help us all prevent future incidents if - and only if - they are shared in a public forum.


The lack of posting doesn’t necessarily mean the reports do not get read.
I might not post after reading a report for the simple reason I did not disagree with anything in the report.
So what would be the point other than to say “hey nice report”.

In this particular case I thought some of the things being posted were a bit over the top.
I have posted about twice as many times in the last few days, Than I have in the last few years. Doesn’t mean I don’t read reports. I don’t know about the other “Hornets” who got stirred up.
Truthfully, I only showed up after hearing about it somewhere else. Some body refers to something here. I take a look. Usually silently move on. Crawl back under a rock until, something else comes up. Though this time I’ve looked at a couple of other topics.


I didn’t say anything about tracking postings… I said that very few people READ the reports. And, yes we do know how many people read them because we track how many people click on the link to visit the report.



CIC, CBDR, TAO, Huh??? I have no idea what these acronyms stand for.

OS - Ordinary Seaman


CIC: combat information center (where the big screen TVs, red lights and fancy buttons are located)

CBDR: constant bearing, decreasing range (self explanatory)

TAO: tactical action officer. (The man running CIC. Can order the OOD to make certain actions but OOD is overall in charge of safety of navigation of the ship)


Thanks. I don’t think any of those were too hard to write out.