IMO’s regulations for collision avoidance exist for a reason, and VHF communications are a potentially dangerous substitute, says Martyn Wingrove
VHF communications are no replacement for IMO’s regulations for avoiding collisions at sea.
Colregs were developed to give mariners a clear framework of rules to follow. They were designed to overcome the limitations of language and the confusion that can set in during tension-filled manoeuvres at sea.
Confusion and the limitations of language in critical communications scenarios are regularly to blame for causing ship collisions.
Poor communications and ignorance of Colregs are attributed to a number of maritime accidents every year by the UK Government’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch, or MAIB, during some of its reports.
In April, MAIB reported on the collision that occurred when bulk carrier, Huayang Endeavour, was overtaking tanker Seafrontier, in the Dover Strait in July 2017. It discovered that both bridge teams had problems communicating over VHF and ignored elements of Colregs to their peril.
Both ships suffered damage although no one was injured during this accident.
The report’s findings reveal, alarmingly, that some masters use VHF radio instead of following Colregs. Many of the masters who read our publication confirmed this practice when I posted my article on LinkedIn.
At sea, the lingua franca is English, but with so many nationalities manning the comms stations of the merchant fleet, English is rarely a first language and often not even a second.
So, instead of reaching for VHF communications to work out a danger-filled manoeuvre such as ship passing, mariners must be trained to follow Colregs to the letter.
Remember, your best intended verbal communications can easily be misinterpreted and may only confuse the other bridge team. And no one wants to the loss of life and property that can come from a collision at sea.