Visual Navigation Implicated in Container Ship Grounding

This is an interesting story to me since the cited cause of the accident is what I would consider to be a natural reaction to losing trust in the electronics. Why the pilot wouldn’t discuss the perceived problems with his electronics with the bridge team is another obvious problem.

After reading about it, wouldn’t the more likely cause be over reliance on the electronic aids led to a lack of ability to effectively use the visual aids to pilot through the turn?

From a BRM standpoint, for me personally, I monitor turns both visually and on the ECDIS / Radars whenever possible. I’d say I’m more focused on watching the helm to make sure it is getting to where the pilot wants it, but monitoring the turn overall is part of it for sure. Everyone can make a mistake, even the most seasoned among us.


The headline of the article is misleading, visual navigation was not “implicated” here. It was a failure to cross-check visual with other means.

The grounding is an example of why it is not appropriate to use visual navigation alone (often referred to as line-of-sight navigation) when manoeuvring large ships in narrow channels, and in the dark. With so little margin for error, it would have been appropriate to utilise fully the accuracy of electronic navigation aids such as PPUs and ECDIS. Had the pilot done so, the ship’s departure from the intended track would have been readily apparent

Example of an L-class ship where the beacon is about to be lost from view and the breakwater is obscured by the containers stowed six high
(Photo courtesy of Port Otago)

I had a pilotage Exemption for this port many years ago and at times in foul weather it can be a tightening of a fundamental orifice experience. The entrance has a bank on the southern side which generates a breaking sea into the main channel and vessels proceeding up to the upper harbour (tankers and bulkers) must start aturn into a channel between two islands before the channel can be seen. The channel is about half a cable wide and it looks bloody small from the bridge of a handy sized bulk carrier. If the pilot had wandered out on to the port wing he would have seen how close he was to the port markers. It’s the sort of place where the wind is like the mother-in-laws breath which is why the Southern Albatross nest on the hill at the entrance. A couple of years ago there was a large iceberg off the entrance and a helicopter landed on it.


Yes, it looks tight in there, with the current, a little wind, not much room for error.

I’m skeptical that it was reasonable in this situation that BRM could save the day here but there is a case to be made.

Having a walk out on the wing for a look is an obvious way of catching this error but that’s the whole point of BRM. Before the pilot can correct an error he has to first realize that he has in fact made one.

This is where the mate comes in:

The ECDIS “off track” alarm when off at 1823:55 but the mate silences it without saying anything. In the next minute the pilot give three helm commands to tighten up the turn.

The thinking behind BRM is the mate saying that the ECDIS shows “off track” might be enough to prompt the pilot to rethink what he’s seeing.

Of course the mate or the captain could walk out side for a look as well. I’ve seen that prompt the pilot to ask how it looks or come out for a look himself.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission must have been really bored to death to make a 31 pages incident investigation following a light bottom paint abrasion! But they were not so keen to address that some light beacons are up to 46 meters (150 ft) outside the dredged channel, that could give a false sentiment that the channel was much wider than in reality and make a bridge team totally confident that there was no danger whatsoever.

Another point set aside is that the vessel AIS was not properly configured on installation. For how long did that box ship sail with a wrongly AIS initial setting and how many times the team was advised of such discrepancy? Instead of correcting the conning offset in the main AIS, they probably made that correction only on the ECDIS. A Pilot PPU software is by default configured to “Accept Own Ship Description” from the AIS via the Pilot Plug so to allow the above noted data to be automatically input into the program. So a pilot can’t trust the vessel AIS configuration; he has to double check by opening all king of windows (Tool Bar - Vessel – Options - Vessel AIS) and enter the conning position by hand while piloting the vessel! Furthermore, some Pilot PPU must be connected to a portable (D)GPS to make sure that both vessel AIS & GPS shadows meet perfectly. It’s really fun to make those corrections when the entrance breakwater is 1½ mile away and the vessel is running at 6 knots in darkness through rain and mist.

1735 POB
1754 Pilot took the conn

That means 19 minutes to:

  • climb 120 steps to the bridge
  • shake the captain’s hand
  • check heading and speed
  • hook off the floating gears
  • report to VTS
  • receive the Master to Pilot information sheet (some request a signature)
  • unpack connect and verify the PPU through Pilot Plug and portable (D)GPS
  • locate the main piloting instruments
  • choose and set the Radar
  • make under keel clearance calculations vs. water levels and speed squat
  • verify, amend and give additional instructions to the vessel passage plan
  • encourage the bridge team to challenge if they have any concerns with the piloting and explain that the ship’s crew is still responsible for monitoring the ship’s progress against the passage plan (especially the rudder indicator which nobody ever watch).
  • check speed against revolution
  • make communications with the tugs
  • give instructions as to where the tugs will fast
  • take an instant Nestlé coffee
  • forget the toilet …

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In using a PPU if you are relying strictly on the AIS and not using a your own independent GNSS receiver you are at the mercy of the ships setup. Personally I almost always use my independent GNSS for position data and the ships AIS for heading and AIS targets. Trouble shooting is limited when boarding an inbound. So at some point you need to forget it and do your job.

It is not rare to get on a ship with their static data is off. I had a 3000 teu ship that was displaying that it was 725 meters long. They claimed that they had fixed it. Had an 8000 teu ship where it listed the GNSS antenna position on the starboard quarter. The AIS is supposed to have annual inspections but in my experience there is a failure by surveyors and port state inspectors. How many of us that have seen ships overlapping at the berth or half the beam off the dock?

With container ships getting wider there has been to though on the loss of visibility to the sides. There are limit on forward visibility. At times you have to do a lot of walking side to side to see navaids.

Sadly looking out the window is becoming not totally sufficient with bigger ships. As Rule 7 states using all available means has more meaning today.

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Much too often; half beam off or overlapping the dock … half ship length overlapping the bow or the stern of nearby docked vessels. Can’t trust the vessel AIS Static Data Antenna-Conning Offset unless compared to own DGPS.

How many of us have landed an Airbus 380 by line-of-sight navigation instead of by ILS LOC G/S DME CAT instrument landing systems?

Maneuvering by eye sight alone these mega box ships inside these yacht channels has become virtually impossible. Anyhow, it is sometime better not to really see what’s going on as perspectives in all directions distort reality …

Chief mate and captain were both in the wheelhouse and both familiar with that port. Both the C/M and Capt were focused on the visual and neither was paying attention to the ECIDS beyond silencing the alarm. From reading the report it seems that the problem was not reluctance to speak up to the pilot.

In my experience unless the bridge team members are given specific duties they will focus on whatever is most interesting. Even when given specific a task the action out the window in close quarters is often too irresistible. In this case watching the pilot conn the ship up the river would have been the most interesting show.

most landing are manual after you line it up…
thats why landing are so crap in asia 99% of the time

I agree with that … when you meet at 125 feet off a passenger vessel in a narrow channel, you better standing by the wheelsman right beside as like all the others, he doesn’t even watch where is going anymore ! :sweat_smile: