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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

Opinion: Sentenced to prison, but was the bridge to blame?

Tue 14 Nov 2017 by Martyn Wingrove

Opinion: Sentenced to prison, but was the bridge to blame?
Car carrier City of Rotterdam was damaged in a collision with roro ferry Primula Seaways (credit: MAIB)

A ship master and pilot were sentenced to prison because of a ship collision in the UK, but was the design of the bridge more to blame? The sentences were handed out because of the collision between Fairmount Shipping’s car carrier City of Rotterdam and DFDS’s roro ferry Primula Seaways on the Humber estuary in eastern England on 3 December 2015.

A subsequent investigation by the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) concluded that a pilot on City of Rotterdam became disorientated and lost awareness of the situation despite there being an electronic chart system and radar on board. This led to City of Rotterdam striking Primula Seaways, causing considerable damage to both ships.

This month, the pilot Gehan Sirimanne and City of Rotterdam captain Ruslan Urumov were sentenced to four months in prison for their involvement in the collision. They both pleaded guilty to charges of conduct that endangered a ship and the prison sentences were suspended for 18 months.

But in my opinion, this was not just a case of misconduct as the MAIB also highlighted issues with the bridge design, layout and construction on City of Rotterdam. MAIB concluded that the incident was due to the pilot’s loss of situational awareness and the bridge team’s failure to intervene. But, this was all exacerbated by an unusual bridge window layout.

The pilot experienced “relative motion illusion” because the bridge windows on City of Rotterdam are laid out in a semi-circle. This means the bridge is not in a straight line as found on conventional ships. There is one middle window that faces ahead, but the other windows’ view is off the centerline axis.

MAIB said this was one of the reasons why the pilot failed to apprehend the developing risk of a ship collision.


Collision summary

On the day of the collision, City of Rotterdam departed the port of Immingham on the outbound lane, but was affected by strong winds and a pronounced tidal stream. This drove the car carrier towards the inbound lane. After being alerted to the route of Primula Seaways, the pilot on City of Rotterdam made a gradual series of course corrections to bring the ship back to the outbound lane. However, the heading changes were not sufficient and the vessels collided.

MAIB said the relative motion illusion meant the pilot was mistaken about the ship’s direction of travel. Reports said audio recordings from the voyage data recorder on City of Rotterdam confirmed that prior to the collision, the pilot believed that he was sailing in the correct direction that he was looking at. However, he was actually looking off the centerline axis by mistake.

When the bridge team became aware of the issue, the captain did not intervene quickly enough and City of Rotterdam struck Primula Seaways, causing £3M (US$3.9M) of damage.

MAIB investigators thought that the bridge design was a major factor in the collision and so did the court judge, Jeremy Richardson, who acknowledged that the ship’s design may have played a role in the accident.

Therefore, the bridge design should have been the focus of the accident blame, and the pilot should have been given acknowledgement for doing a tough job in difficult circumstances on an unusual bridge layout. Not sentenced to four months and expected to pay court fees.

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