MAIB: Inadequate Use of ECDIS Causing More Accidents

The grounding of the chemical tanker Ovit on the Varne Bank in the Dover Strait on 18 September 2013 was caused by poor use of electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS), according to a report issued by the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB).

As explained by the report, Ovit’s primary means of navigation was ECDIS and analysis of this system.

“The passage plan was unsafe as it passed directly over the Varne Bank. It had been prepared in ECDIS by an inexperienced and unsupervised junior officer and was not checked by the master before departure,” the report reads.

The OOW followed the track shown on the ECDIS display but had such poor situational awareness that it took him 19 minutes to realise the vessel was aground, the investigation shows.

ECDIS safety settings were not appropriate to the local conditions and the audible alarm was disabled; after the accident, the historical track could not be recovered from the system.

“Dover coastguard’s Channel Navigation Information Service (CNIS) had a system and procedure for warning ships approaching the Varne Bank. However, on this occasion, the warning was not issued to Ovit as the coastguard watch officer operating CNIS was unqualified, unsupervised and distracted,” the report adds.

“This is the third grounding investigated by the MAIB where watchkeepers’ failure to use an electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS) properly has been identified as one of the causal factors,Steve Clinch, Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents said.

“Generic ECDIS training is mandated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), but it is left to Flag States and owners to decide whether or not type-specific training is necessary and, if so, how it should be delivered. As experience of ECDIS systems improves, evidence indicates that many owners are concluding that type-specific training is essential, though some are resorting to computer-based training once the watchkeeper is on board.

In this accident, however, despite dedicated training ashore on the system they were to use, the operators’ knowledge of the ECDIS and ability to navigate their vessel safely using the system were wholly inadequate.”

“While systems allow individuals to operate them in a sub-standard manner, there are those who will do so: such is human nature. For all shipping companies navigation is a safety-critical function and failure to navigate effectively can and does result every year in pollution, loss of vessels, and loss of life.

 “It is to be hoped, therefore, that the next generation of ECDIS will embody features making them less vulnerable to the vagaries of human performance to achieve a better level of assurance that safe navigation is being consistently achieved,” Clinch added.

In the early morning of 18 September 2013, the Malta registered chemical tanker, Ovit, carrying a cargo of vegetable oil, ran aground on the Varne Bank in the Dover Strait. The vessel remained aground for just under 3 hours; there were no injuries and damage to the vessel was superficial. There was no pollution.

Full report is available here.

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