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Old 04-05-2011, 05:21 PM   #1
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On November 15th 2010 the German Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation (Bundesstelle für Seeunfalluntersuchung - BSU) published the report on the collision between the *SY MAHDI and the German car/railway ferry SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN north of the island of Fehmarn, Western Baltic Sea, Germany ( report: Figure 3, page 9). The Cruiser Log informed us about this accident* here.

The BSU report is found * here

The BSU is investigating all casualties and accidents German vessels are involved in. Investigations are carried out in accordance with the law for the improvement of the safety at sea. It takes a professional look at accidents and other incidents at sea. The only purpose is to avoid accidents and other incidents in the future. The investigation is not ment to do any statements about legal questions of fault, liabilities or legal claims. This report is not even ment to be used in court.

Unfortunately the report is only issued in German language and quite long (and does not have an english summary) – therefor I will not come up with a translation of the report. It is more an attempt to bring up the major points out of the view of a skipper and crew of a sailing yacht.

The major points brought up in the report are:*

The collision is a result of a not sufficient lookout on the NNE-going ferry SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN. The SY MAHDI had the right of way.*

The reasons for this not sufficient lookout was thoroughly analized in the report and brought up these items:

- *Due to the dense traffic situation the radars were not able to produce a clear target because *at first the west going *SY MAHDI was in the "shade" of a drilling platform and then of the ESE-going cruise ship AIDALUNA, *the SY MAHDI produced only a weak radar echo, that was especially in the near vincinity of the ferry not necessarily distinguishable from echoes evoked by wake. (See also the reports figure 12 to 15 page 18-20: traffic situation, and the same seen *on the ferrys X-Band radar screen: Figures 16 – 23 on the pages 21 to 30.)

- During the minutes before the collision the crew of the ferry paid attention to another merchant ship going WNW, the MS WOLTHUSEN . This explains the ferrys turn to starboard, seen on Figure 24, page 32, putting the SCHLESWIG HOLSTEIN on a collision course with the SY MAHDI. The ferrys final turn to port as an attempt to avoid the collision is also seen on this figure 24. *The "optical" situation before the collision was extremely influenced by the masses of lights caused by the drilling rigg and its working boats, the passing cruise ship AIDALUNA and the need to concentrate on the *MS WOLTHUSEN, the ferry wanted to pass astern. *Physiologic and psychologic mechanisms might have been the reason that the watchkeepers on the SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN optically missed the read light (tri-colour mast head light) of the SY MAHDI.

Then the report comes to the point what has to be done, to avoid such fatal situations in the future:

By the sailing yacht:

- * yachts generally should avoid areas of such dense traffic as much as practicable. (The point of collision was exactly on the crossing point of the ferry way between Puttgarden (GER) and RØDBY (DEN) and the WNW-ESE-going main shipping channel into the eastern Baltic Sea, which the SY MAHDI crossed diagonally).

- doing everything so that small crafts are seen on radar (radar reflectors, passive or active).

- installing and using AIS, even though pleasure boats are not obliged to do so. (The report points out the growing problem of both AIS-equipped crafts and the ones without in a dence traffic situation.)

- problems arising out of the use of the tri-colour mast head (sailing) light in dence traffic situations, putting sailing crafts optically further away than they actually are and/or placing their light inbetween many other lights on the horizon, as the bridge of a merchant ship /ferry/cruise liner is on the same elevation as our tri colour light. (See also the figures 24 and 25 on page 34 and 35: sailing school material issued by the DSV – Germain Sailing Association.)

By the ferry:

- *doing further adjustments on the ferry's radar (TUNE, GAIN, RAIN, SEA, CLEAN SWP) to improve the image of the radar screen.

- *and: the observation of the traffic by the ferry with radar could have been subordinate to an optical watch keeping due to the clear, dark night with generally good sight conditions (page 36).

Uwe

SY Aquaria
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Old 04-05-2011, 08:16 PM   #2
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Thanks so much for the translation and highlights of this accident investigation and recommendations.
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Old 04-06-2011, 02:04 AM   #3
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Thanks Uwe for the up-date.

For those that know Rod & Becky Nowlin of the yacht SV Mahdi and who may wish to contact them send a PM to Uwe on AQUARIA or myself.

To remind ourselves - It was Rod on Mahdi together with the yacht Gandalf who drove off Pirates in the Gulf of Aden after a short firefight - some years ago.
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Old 04-06-2011, 03:19 AM   #4
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There are some terrible boating accidents in the US that make the news, but I rarely, if ever, see a follow-up story of the results of an inquiry. I appreciate knowing that a serious inquiry was undertaken on behalf of MAHDI and the ferry, and the results are interesting.

MAHDI was a steel sloop, and it was my impression that a steel boat returned a better image on radar than one made of fiberglass. Yet the report indicates that the radar image was unclear and the boat was confused with more distant objects. Does this mean that steel boats are perhaps not as visible on radar as is generally expected?

The comments regarding the masthead nav lights is, IMO, a valid point. The high masthead nav lights are very good for being seen by large ships on the open ocean. In close quarters, though, sometimes the nav lights are just not in line of sight. We watched those fast ferries zoom along, near Kiel and also in the States, and I can easily understand how the crew of the ferry might overlook or fail to notice MAHDI's masthead light. The speed at which these ferries travel even in crowded or confused areas, it's surprising that there are not more incidents. I'm convinced that the ferry operators think that every boat smaller than theirs should know enough to get out of their way - the problems really arise when the small boat new to the area isn't aware of their schedule and speed.

Yet I'm not so sure that deck level lights on MAHDI would have been better recognized. We had a close call with a tugboat on a crossing to the Bahamas many years ago, before we installed a masthead light. The weather was marginal and the seas were very lumpy. Peter had talked to the tug to be sure he saw us and knew we were there, but shortly afterward the tug came much too close to us, apologizing to Peter when Peter yelped at him on VHF. The tug captain apologized, telling Peter that Watermelon's radar return got lost in the sea clutter, and the choppy 6' seas hid our nav lights when the 'Melon and the tug were each in the trough of the waves at the same time. Nowadays, AIS would be a welcome aid in those conditions, as it might well have been for MAHDI almost two years ago.
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Old 04-06-2011, 07:32 AM   #5
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Though the USCG does their own investigations, you can always find NTSB marine-related accident investigation reports here: http://www3.ntsb.gov/surface/marine/marine.htm
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Old 04-06-2011, 04:04 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JeanneP View Post

...

MAHDI was a steel sloop, and it was my impression that a steel boat returned a better image on radar than one made of fiberglass.**Yet the report indicates that the radar image was unclear and the boat was confused with more distant objects.**Does this mean that steel boats are perhaps not as visible on radar as is generally expected?**

...
...you are right and it surprized me too, so far believing that because of the building material steel boats make a good radar reflector...

This is a point, the report stresses as it is not the first time that in German waters a steel yacht was involved in a collision with a merchant ship: *(page 37, first pragraph): in an earlier report *(56/09) the question about a gain of safety due to the use of a passive or ,better, an active radar reflector was answered positively: "Also crafts made out of steel, especially if they have a rather slim shaped hull, as yachts have, *do reflect *only a limited number of emitted waves back to the radar antenna depending on their situation relative to the radar . As a result, only weak echoes are visible on the radar screen, which, especially in the short range area, could be confused with other disturbing influences".

Uwe

SY Aquaria
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Old 04-12-2011, 05:56 PM   #7
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... after reading *this * (please scroll all the way down to the letter of Rod Nowlin addressed to Bobby Schenk, a very experienced blue water sailor here in Germany ), I am no longer convinced that the reports issued by the BSU are unprejudiced! *

Regarding the points Rod Nowlin mentioned I filtered out of the BSU-report:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Aquaria View Post

*

The collision is a result of a not sufficient lookout on the NNE-going ferry SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN. The SY MAHDI had the right of way.*

The reasons for this not sufficient lookout was thoroughly analized in the report and brought up these items:

- *Due to the dense traffic situation the radars were not able to produce a clear target because *at first the west going *SY MAHDI was in the "shade" of a drilling platform and then of the ESE-going cruise ship AIDALUNA, *the SY MAHDI produced only a weak radar echo, that was especially in the near vincinity of the ferry not necessarily distinguishable from echoes evoked by wake. (See also the reports figure 12 to 15 page 18-20: traffic situation, and the same seen *on the ferrys X-Band radar screen: Figures 16 – 23 on the pages 21 to 30.)

- During the minutes before the collision the crew of the ferry paid attention to another merchant ship going WNW, the MS WOLTHUSEN . This explains the ferrys turn to starboard, seen on Figure 24, page 32, putting the SCHLESWIG HOLSTEIN on a collision course with the SY MAHDI. The ferrys final turn to port as an attempt to avoid the collision is also seen on this figure 24. *The "optical" situation before the collision was extremely influenced by the masses of lights caused by the drilling rigg and its working boats, the passing cruise ship AIDALUNA and the need to concentrate on the *MS WOLTHUSEN, the ferry wanted to pass astern. *Physiologic and psychologic mechanisms might have been the reason that the watchkeepers on the SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN optically missed the read light (tri-colour mast head light) of the SY MAHDI.


Then the report comes to the point what has to be done, to avoid such fatal situations in the future:

By the sailing yacht:

- * yachts generally should avoid areas of such dense traffic as much as practicable. (The point of collision was exactly on the crossing point of the ferry way between Puttgarden (GER) and RØDBY (DEN) and the WNW-ESE-going main shipping channel into the eastern Baltic Sea, which the SY MAHDI crossed diagonally).

- doing everything so that small crafts are seen on radar (radar reflectors, passive or active).

- installing and using AIS, even though pleasure boats are not obliged to do so. (The report points out the growing problem of both AIS-equipped crafts and the ones without in a dence traffic situation.)

- problems arising out of the use of the tri-colour mast head (sailing) light in dence traffic situations, putting sailing crafts optically further away than they actually are and/or placing their light inbetween many other lights on the horizon, as the bridge of a merchant ship /ferry/cruise liner is on the same elevation as our tri colour light. (See also the figures 24 and 25 on page 34 and 35: sailing school material issued by the DSV – Germain Sailing Association.)

By the ferry:

- *doing further adjustments on the ferry's radar (TUNE, GAIN, RAIN, SEA, CLEAN SWP) to improve the image of the radar screen.

- *and: the observation of the traffic by the ferry with radar could have been subordinate to an optical watch keeping due to the clear, dark night with generally good sight conditions (page 36).


... I should have looked more thoroughly before informing you about the outcome of the MAHDI-accident... I apologize.

And what is haunting my mind now is: how serious does the commercial shipping do their watch keeping? We all know that off the main shipping routes the men on watch do a rather ralaxed job* (I still feel the heart beat when thinking about the fruit liner - the only ship we saw in 19 days - 100 miles southwest of the Azores that nearly run over us in 1993...),* *but *on shipping lines and coastal waters the same relaxed watch keeping? *I really do hope that this is just a singular case.

Uwe

SY Aquaria
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Old 04-12-2011, 09:51 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aquaria View Post

And what is haunting my mind now is: how serious does the commercial shipping do their watch keeping? We all know that off the main shipping routes the men on watch do a rather ralaxed job* (I still feel the heart beat when thinking about the fruit liner - the only ship we saw in 19 days - 100 miles southwest of the Azores that nearly run over us in 1993...),* *but *on shipping lines and coastal waters the same relaxed watch keeping? *I really do hope that this is just a singular case.
Several years ago I read an article in either Offshore Navigator Magazine or Ocean Voyager (or, perhaps another, don't remember all that well) written by the captain of a freighter. What I got out of the article was that with increased financial pressures on the shipping industry, the crew numbers on modern ships were significantly reduced from years gone by; that the watchkeeper had responsibilities other than just looking out for other traffic, and could be distracted and miss seeing a small yacht. The writer was not apologizing, nor was he making excuses for anything, he was simply stating the realities of modern shipping. Technological advances had lulled shippers, and regulators, into relaxing crew requirements.

I don't believe that ship captains are heartless, unfeeling robot masters of their ships, and I realize that we're all human and prone to human errors. That's why such improvements as AIS are so welcome. However, all the technology in the world, and the most caring and compassionate captains, can't operate perfectly all the time. That's why redundancy is so important, and I think that's what is missing in today's economic climate - preparing for the worst case, not crewing for the average, uneventful sitations.

I am pleased to learn that Rod and Becky at least were compensated for their loss; though nothing can compensate them for the terror they must have felt when that ferry hit them! That's the anger that I take from Rod's comments, and I only hope that they have continued their cruising life, though I wouldn't blame them if they didn't.

I still think the use of masthead navigation lights need a revisiting. For one thing, this was probably one place where a strobe light flashing might have drawn enough attention to them that this accident could not have occurred.
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