USS J McCain / Alnic MC collision near Singapore


The collision was just 4.6 NM NNE of the Horsburgh Radar.


What you’re describing is a modern version of the “Sailing Master” of the 17-18th C. British Navy. Officers were often (but not always) from fairly upper class backgrounds and SOME had little interest in learning the maritime arts except perhaps those of the fighting sailor. They were educated in navigation, ship handling under sail, etc. by their Lieutenants and their sailing master but many really weren’t professional mariners although they had the King’s commission.

The Sailing Masters on the other hand, typically came up through the ranks of petty officers and merchant navy mates. They held the King’s warrant (warrant officers) and were almost entirely concerned ONLY with the navigation and pilotage of the ship. They ranked just behind the Lieutenants and ahead of the midshipmen and were addressed as “Mr…” Typically, the Sailing Master was responsible for the navigator’s “days work”, position logs, etc… Decision making still resided entirely with the Captain, but wise Captains listened closely to their Sailing Masters in matters of navigation, pilotage, etc…

By about the 1830’s, the position of Sailing Master had been replaced by “navigating Lieutenants”, and eventually, all Lieutenants were expected to master navigating and piloting skills. But I agree that reviving the position of “Sailing Master” might be one way to solve some of the Navy’s apparent problems!


I could not say it better.


Not only am I aware of that but that’s exactly what I modeled my suggestion after. (We’ve discussed the old sailing masters a few times already on here in the light of recent events.)


STRAITREP is the VTS setup in the area

and Google - MPA STRAITREP
It’s much the same as GIBREP, CALDOVREP and so on.
Applies, as usual, to anything >300GT etc, don’t know about warship exemptions…


Wait, so there were two CDR Sanchez’s on the same ship? I imagine that would never get confusing ever…


This illustrates that the first reporting point for entering the easternmost Sector 9 of the STRAITREP Operational Area was not yet reached when the collision happened. And to be honest, I doubt that a report by the involved ships to the VTS would have helped anything in avoiding the accident.

Fortunately, the decisions on how to navigate vessels in VTS areas are still being made by navigators on board the ships, and not by people sitting behind radar screens ashore…

As has been mentioned before, the following factors give reasons to anticipate (conjecture) that it was an “Overtaking” situation (Colreg #13), and that the John S. McCain was the overtaking ship:

  • The ships were in the westbound TSS lane when the collision occurred

  • The Alnic MC and the John S. McCain were both coming from the South China Sea, and were both bound for Singapore

  • The AIS indicated that the Alnic MC was proceeding at slightly reduced speed at the time of the accident (9.4 knots). This is somewhat slower than in the initial part of the AIS capture (10.8 knots), and even more so than the max speed reported by Marinetraffic during her voyage from Korea to Singapore (12.3 knots)

  • The John S. McCain has a maximum speed of more than 30 knots

  • The Colreg #10 c) states that “A vessel shall, so far as practicable, avoid crossing traffic lanes…”

Hence, I find it very little probable that this was a “Crossing” situation (Colreg #15). If this was an “Overtaking” situation, and if John S. McCain was the overtaking ship, Colreg #13 clearly states that it is her responsibility “to keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken.” And furthermore, that: “Any subsequent alteration of the bearing between the two vessels shall not make the overtaking vessel a crossing vessel within the meaning of these Rules or relieve her of the duty of keeping clear of the overtaken vessel until she is finally past and clear.”


I’ve worked several times on a USNS Auxiliary that routinely operates with AIS in receive only mode for Operational Security reasons. We only transmit when we’re going into or leaving port, or at the Master’s discretion.

One thing I have noticed is that foreign vessels are much less likely to either initiate or respond to collision avoidance calls on VHF 16 when you’re not transmitting on AIS. This isn’t a problem with US-flag ships, they always come back on the first or second call. My personal theory is that its a language thing- its much easier to identify a ship’s name on AIS than it is to understand and act on “I am the white-hulled vessel off your port bow range 4.5 miles.”

Anyone else noticed a reluctance by foreign mates to make or respond to VHF calls when they don’t know the other vessel’s name?


Yes, I have indeed noticed the same thing.
My theory is that the problem is that you native Americans speak English too good :rofl:
I think that there is a barrier to answer a call being transmitted in fluent American accent, by non-native English speakers, in particular those that understand that their command of the English language is very basic (although fully sufficient), and that they themselves will have to stammer with evident plain foreign accent.
I think that this barrier will become less significant, if you speak very slow and very clear English when calling foreign ships.


Plus the fact to hear “I am the white-hulled vessel off your port bow range 4.5 miles.” while in the middle of a TSS with dozens of ships within VHF range around is not going to help me much… unless you are really the only while-hulled vessel around. Not mentioning nighttime or poor visibility.
I would add that in some parts of the world there is so much chatter on channel 16 that unless you hear your call sign, ship name or MAYDAY you just have your hears off…


Stories are beginning to surface about the search and rescue operations being suspended external of the vessel. Recovery efforts will continue inside flooded compartments. The Navy has released the identities of the sailors. Thinking of everybody during this difficult time. :anchor: :us:

Details found here:


M[quote=“That_CMA_Guy, post:189, topic:45819”]
Anyone else noticed a reluctance by foreign mates to make or respond to VHF calls when they don’t know the other vessel’s name?

The language barrier isn’t as big as you think it is, at least in my experience. Foreign mates would rather adhere strictly to the rules as opposed to use the radio and agree to a binding departure from them. Some masters are very adamant to not use the radio except as a last resort. YMMV.


My experience is that foreign ships are very reluctant to call or answer on the VHF. This has improved since the introduction of AIS. Part of this may be attributable to AIS and part to improved English language skills amongst foreign mariners.

I have heard foreign mariners express a very dismissive attitude toward American “enthusiasm” for using the VHF. It seems like they take pride in refusing to use the VHF.


I find this to be true most of the time, but a lot of non U.S. Ships have a tendency to wait until they are a mile off your port side to maneuver around your stern in a crossing situation. I tend to chock this up to the mate on watch either being “locked” on his track line with the ECDIS driving the ship or some sort of hell or high water standing orders from the old man to not deviate from the passage plan at all. Either one is something I try to avoid on my own ship. The ship is not on rails. Maneuver appropriately when needed, just don’t run aground.

I always prefer to make a clear showing of my port bow and clearly visible change of aspect at about 5-6 miles when I am the give way vessel. The course alteration will be less severe and it should give the mate on the stand on vessel a bit more comfort as to my intentions. It would be nice if that favor was returned.


Is there a big difference between how foreign and US Mates behave in a given situation??
If so, has that got anything to do with the ability understand and speak English? There are lots of foreign Mates who speaks English fluently and some US Mates who’s English is difficult to understand for anybody. (Other than other Americans maybe??)

As to whether there is a different bridge culture and custom when it comes how the ROR is interpreted when it comes to collision avoidance, or how Maritime Law applies to using VHF to communicate with other vessels is also a question I cannot answer.

In my experience VHF is a frequently used “tool” regardless of nationality of vessel, Masters or Mates. More so with the access to AIS these days.

I remember a situation where a ship that had just been purchases had been repainted white on one side, while the other side reminded black. Coming up Brisbane River the Pilot on our ship where trying to agree passing arrangement with the other Pilot on their internal communication channel, only to get totally confused by refr. to a white ship, while all he could see was a black ship coming downriver. (Before VHF became standard equipment)


I remember having a tanker go in between my vessel and a rig while we were running out an anchor on a PCC wire in the late 90’s. The rig crew was making transition - chain to wire at the time. We had out about 3500 feet of chain between myself and the rig. There may have been 2000 feet between me and the rig at the most. Then, here comes a Liberia flagged chemical tanker doing 15 knots…never answered hails…shining spot light and shooting flares didnt work…the ship went right in between us. My biggest consern (besides getting hit) was to fall back even further to make sure the ship didn’t catch any caternary and trip us. There is no language for having your head up your ass.


I had the same thing happen, the ship never responded to me or the rig calling him.


This sequence of events has even made it into this week’s Economist…


Not really. One is called “Captain” the other is called “XO”.


Im aware of their titles, Im just saying it would be confusing to have two people of the same rank and same name on the same boat