Varkan Ege: COLREGs implementation called into question after vessels collide reveals MCIB investigation

MCIB report on 'Varkan Ege'
MCIB report on ‘Varkan Ege’

Ireland’s MCIB has published an investigation report on the collision between the tanker ‘Varkan Ege’ and the sailing vessel ‘Medi Mode’ in Irish waters during August 2019. The investigation attributed the incident to a mix of misunderstanding, inefficient lookout and poor knowledge of COLREGs.

On Saturday, 22 August 2019 at 10.45 hrs, the sailing vessel ‘Medi Mode’ departed from Arklow and was on route to Kilmore Quay. A decision was made to change the destination from Kilmore Quay to Howth as the weather had deteriorated, and due to an impending night arrival in Kilmore Quay.

At 17.45 hrs on 22 August, abeam of Rosslare, a course was set for the home port of Howth. The vessel was motor sailing on autopilot with navigation lights and steaming light showing from sunset.

At approximately 02.10 hrs on the 23rd August, a southbound vessel appeared off the starboard bow. It’s steaming white lights and a green side light were observed by the watchkeeper on the yacht.

On Sunday 23 August at 01.00 hrs, the tanker ‘Varkan Ege’ commenced its sea passage after leaving Dublin Port. The destination was Falmouth and a course was set of 161 degrees with a speed of 7.5 knots.

At 02.15 the officer on watch (OOW) of the ‘Varkan Ege’ observed a red light on the starboard bow and he went to check for an echo on the radar. He found a small echo and realised that it was an echo from a sailing vessel. The closest point of approach (CPA) was 0 nautical miles (NM). He made a large alteration of course to starboard.

At 02.22 hrs there was a collision between the two vessels. There was no damage to the tanker ‘Varkan Ege’. The sailing vessel was extensively damaged but was able to make way under its own power to Greystones Harbour.

There was neither injury nor pollution by this incident.

Probable causes
The cause of this collision is the result of two main factors:
1) The application and implementation, in this case, of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972 (COLREGs).
2) Human Factors.

The ‘Medi Mode’ believed that no risk of collision existed because the lights were green to green. However, due to yawing from a following wind they were actually showing a red, port side light to the ‘Varkan Ege’ when the lookout observed the vessel. Having taken no compass bearings and also that they had no radar, this could not be definitively determined.

Even though ‘Medi Mode’ saw the ‘Varkan Ege’ in plenty of time, it believed it was the stand on vessel and kept its course and speed in the belief that the ‘Varkan Ege’ would either alter course or would pass clear on their starboard side. This led to a close quarters situation and subsequent collision.

Meanwhile, the ‘Varkan Ege’ reported seeing the red light with a CPA of zero at 02.16 hrs and the collision occurred at 02.22 hrs. This gave it 6 minutes to take proper action to avoid collision. A lookout would have detected this at 4 minutes.

It had six minutes to make a large alteration of course to starboard, as it observed the ‘Medi Mode’ light at a range of 1.5 NM. A course alteration was made at 02.18 hrs, approximately 4 minutes before the collision.

As per COLREGs, the ‘Varkan Ege’ complied with efforts to avoid collision when it became apparent that collision was possible. It altered course to starboard, it reduced speed and requested ‘Medi Mode’ by sound signal to indicate its intentions.

The ‘Varkan Ege’ should not have attempted to communicate via VHF with the sailing vessel when it was so close. This is not recommended, and was not successful. This wasted valuable time when an immediate alteration of course to starboard may have been sufficient to avoid collision.

In addition, the two crewmembers of the ‘Medi Mode’ had many years’ experience of sailing, however, they had no formal marine navigation training.

They had no recognised course on the COLREGs. This was a contributory factor particularly in relation to International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972 Rule 7: Taking Compass bearings and Rule 17(b) and (d) Action of stand-on vessel.

The ‘Varkan Ege’ states in its report that it observed the ‘Medi Mode’ altering its course to port just before the collision. ‘Medi Mode’ states in its report that it kept its course. This cannot be determined definitively as the ‘Medi Mode’ does not have the technology to record this. However, the two vessels were on a collision course before this happened. The collision occurred with the prow of the ‘Medi Mode’ striking the port bow of the ‘Varkan Ege’.

MCIB recommends Ireland’s Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport to issue a Marine Notice highlighting the requirements set out in Chapter 2 of the Code of Practice (CoP): The Safe Operation of Recreational Craft.

In particular attention should be drawn to:
– Chapter 2, para 2.1 of the CoP – Training: It is recommended that persons participating in sailboat and motorboat activities undertake appropriate training. A number of training schemes and approved courses are available and information can be obtained directly from course providers.
– Compliance with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (1972).

Read the pdf report in full: MCIB-Report-into-the-collision-between-a-tanker-‘Varkan-Ege’-and-a-sailing-vessel-‘Medi-Mode’

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