Clay Maitland

On a quest for quality in shipping

Ringing the changes

Posted on | August 24, 2010 | No Comments

mikethumbThe excellent Dennis Bryant, whose blog is all-encompassing on marine affairs, passes on an important recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board after investigating embarrassing events where US Coast Guard patrol craft were involved in collisions.

In a recommendation heavy with meaning for people who cannot bear to be unconnected from the world outside their ships, it is suggested that cellphones, whether used for text messages or conversation, can represent a serious navigational hazard on the bridge.

It is not that there is any shortage of prior events involving watchkeepers or shipmasters becoming distracted by the facility of mobile phones.

In recent years we have been given graphic accounts of a big bulker which failed to make a course change off the Australian coast because the officer of the watch was talking to his wife, and a tanker which drifted out of a channel in the Southampton approaches with the master in deep conversation with the agent.

In the case the officer of the watch failed to alert the preoccupied master, because he didn’t want to interrupt him, which says something about priorities.

There was a graphic tale of a big supply boat leaving a Scottish port in thick fog, when the poor master, alone on the bridge, was literally overwhelmed by communications, the urgent telephone message on his mobile drowning out the even more urgent message from the port VTS operator to the effect that the ship was approaching a granite breakwater at an indiscreet speed. Alas, this message was too late.

There was even a case some years ago of a passenger ship experiencing engine trouble off a lee shore with the master being harassed on his mobile by the press looking for an exclusive on the emergency.

Recommendations are all very well, but there is probably a good case for prohibiting the use of mobile telephones on the bridge of a ship under way, just like they are forbidden in aircraft, on account of the electronic interference they might cause.

It is, after all, not unknown. It is not that long ago that a complete shutdown of a ferry’s engines as the ship approached port was attributed to two of the engineers talking to each other on hand-held radios. Silence might be golden.

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