More on VTS-Assisted Accidents

John Clandillon-Baker at UK Pilot Magazine sent me a link to the collision/allision between the general cargo ship Karen Danielsen and the Great Belt Bridge in Denmark that’s very timely given the call for ships to obey VTS Operators in the same way that aircraft obey air traffic controllers. In this case the Croatian Chief Officer fell asleep alone on the ship’s bridge and sadly died in the incident. The area was covered by a VTS system but, at the critical moments, the VTS operator was distracted and didn’t know the ship had hit the bridge until he heard a Mayday on the VHF.

Karen Danielsen

The Karen Danielsen before… 

KD Bridge
This was the bridge

Karen Danielsen after

…and after. The Chief Officer, the single watchkeeper on the bridge, died. 

The official report concludes that VTS could not have prevented the collision. John’s magazine article says: “In my opinion there is a bit of whitewash over the finding that the VTS could probably not have prevented this disaster since the investigators have seemingly revealed that no operators were monitoring shipping on the relevant display for over 30 minutes. If it is considered unlikely that the operator could have prevented the collision even if he had been keenly monitoring the ship it does rather beg the question why bother with having the VTS and expensively manning it since it is seemingly not fit for purpose?

“One common factor amongst all the VTS centres that I have visited is that VTS operators are allocated many administrative duties which inevitably distract the VTS operator from monitoring the displays. If the procedural changes introduced in the Danish Belt centre following the collision were implemented as general VTS policy the increase in manpower required to separately cover the administrative functions could have a significant impact on cost effectiveness of VTS.

You can read his article here.

An otherwise occupied VTS operator also played a role in the grounding of the P&O-Nedlloyd Magellan in Southampton Water, as mentioned in a previous post.

Despite the inevitable howls of protest and indignation from the industry the paradigm shift from VTS as advisers to VTS as controllers is sure to come. It will probably be the biggest change since VTS system began in Liverpool in 1948. Clearly, those who manage VTS will have to pull their socks up, too.

One issue that tends to be overshadowed in the Karen Danielsen case is fatigue. The Chief Officer had been working for 11 hours, taking breaks only for meals. As it happens, new crew had joined the ship on the day of the collision. None were involved in the accident but john has some forceful comments about how they joined the ship:

“…investigators noted a disturbing factor around how crew changes are now undertaken in total contravention of the Working Time Directive which results in ships’s personnel joining the vessel in an already extremely fatigued state. The report notes:

The 2nd officer together with four other new crew members joined the vessel around 1000 hours on 3 March 2005 after travelling by mini-bus from Split in Croatia to Svendborg, in Denmark. This was a direct drive of 26 hours, they were accompanied by two drivers and a crew manager from the manning agency. Upon arrival at the ship they went through their respective handovers and the departing crew members left to return to Croatia with the same mini-bus shortly after 1400 hours on 3 March. The joining crew went straight on duty upon arrival at the vessel.

Due to the busy work schedule planned for the 3rd March, all on board, both existing and newly joined crew worked throughout the day on the 3 March 2005.

I understand that this appalling disregard of the ‘Human Element’ is apparently now common practice as a means of saving the cost of hotel bills and air fares.

Says it all, really.

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