Thanks for the link Lodesman!
From the perspective of a Master Mariner with a total of 24 years of military, government
, and commercial
experience, the broadest common factor was situational awareness. This goes triple for those that published the report. And this is true whenever situational awareness is the problem; you don’t know what you don’t know. Only someone from the outside that really does know, can see the problem clearly. Oddly, what would have most likely avoided either collision
was timely and proper use of the throttles. This was not even mentioned in the report. The report also criticized the knowledge of the crew’s rules of the road, and yet they didn’t quite get it right themselves.
Here is how I read it:
Fitzgerald was an accident waiting to happen.
As was customary (!), they were crossing an established and well used Traffic Separation Scheme without even knowing it was there. They did not know how to properly use their radars and blamed the equipment. Regardless, it was hit and miss as to if, when, and who could determine the CPA (closest point of approach) to the vessels they were encountering. Even with the containership flashing their searchlight into the bridge windows of the Fitz (not mentioned in the report…), it wasn’t until the OOD just happened to look that way that he just happened to notice that they were on a collision course. He started to turn right in order to pass astern, which was proper as the container ship’s red, port sidelight would have been showing. (Uh, red means danger
, stop, right???) Then he changed his mind and went flank speed and hard left to try to pass ahead. (Didn’t work
so well for the Andrea Doria either…)
From the containership’s perspective, they were required to maintain course and speed as the stand-on vessel, which they did until it was evident that they Fitz was not taking proper action. At that point they turned to the right, as was proper. So what do they see the Fitz do? Go flank ahead, cut across their bow and get nailed, like an idiot squirrel playing chicken on the highway! But here is the thing, if the OOD judged the situation was one that he could not avoid a collision when turning to the right – if they were just too close and closing too quickly – and hoped that he could avoid a collision by using his speed and maneuverability to go ahead of the vessel, then using those same attributes could have been used differently, more effectively, and in accordance with the Rules of the Road. He could have backed hard on the starboard screw. They are controllable pitch
propellers and react very quickly. This obvious option was not even mentioned in the report, but nit-picking established procedures was, over and over again…
To me, the chilling thing is that the Fitz thought it was perfectly normal to traverse areas of dense shipping
without the ability to know how close they were going to come to other vessels, let alone know how to avoid coming too close. But that is what happens when established procedures divide up the information and control of a ship’s bridge to the point that no one person has the total picture.
The McCain incident was like fumbling a football
. They were going 20 knots in an area normally traveled at 12 knots for good reason. This was the Traffic Separation Scheme approaching Singapore
. Those vessels going much more than 12 knots normally take their chances in the separation zone, rather than in the traffic lane, as the McCain did. So, the McCain passes the tanker, leaving it on her port side. The Captain
notices that the helmsman is having difficulty managing the rudder
and the throttles at the same time and orders the control of the throttles shifted to the lee (assistant) helmsman. However this is done, a mistake was made and control of both the rudder
and the throttles were shifted to the lee helmsman. Moreover, the lee helmsman thought the throttles were ganged, when they were actually on separate control. (How many fumbles so far, two?) The helmsman then properly announces that he has lost steering
control. The rudders are amidships, while he had been carrying a couple degrees of right rudder to maintain course. The Conning Officer then declares a steering
casualty, announces the emergency
throughout the ship and transfers control to after steering – BEFORE IT IS EVEN MANNED!!!
While waiting for after steering to be manned (which was a good call) they could have been trying to regain control on the bridge if they had not transferred control. There were a handful of way to control the rudders from the bridge – probably too many ways… A few minutes later some crewmembers arrive at after steering, take control of the rudders with local control already set to hard left rudder, which the rudder then responds to, swinging the ship even more to port before they are brought amidships. (Another fumble.)
Meanwhile, up on the bridge, the Captain
decides to slow down and orders a speed change, but apparently nobody checks to see if the propulsion
actually is responding properly. (Now just where is that darn football?) The lee helmsman eases back on the port throttle, thinking it will control both screws, but actually only slows the port screw, increasing the rate of swing to port due to the ship needing to carry some starboard rudder and the unbalanced forces from the screws, not to mention the rudders actually going hard port for a time at some point. The Captain then orders the speed reduced more. Again, only the port throttle is pulled back, nobody notices at first. Even though the speed is reduced some, the twisting force is also greater, increasing the rate of turn to port even more. (More fumbles, and was after steering ever able to regain control of the ship’s heading? Just when in relation to other events
were the red-over-red, not under command lights turned on? The instant replay is inconclusive. The play stands as called on the field…)
But what about the tanker? You know, the one they shot ahead of and left on their port side, the one that they have drifted in front of, the one that is now going faster than they are? And what did the tanker see? A ship showing only a red, port sidelight pass them unconventionally on the starboard side, the red light being shielded from view as only the white sternlight becomes visible. No other deck
light visible, as commercial ship have on for the safety
of the ship and crew. So this lone white light of a faster vessel eventually crosses ahead of them. OK, perhaps he is headed for the separation zone where he belongs. Hmmm, is there a couple of dim red lights above and a little to the left of the white starlight? Didn’t hear anything on the radio
about a vessel having difficulties. Probably just something in the distance. Wait! Are we actually getting closer to this guy?!?!? Left full rudder!
But again, since the intent was to use the throttles to control the shop’s speed, they could have easily been used to control the ship’s heading, too. This is never mentioned in the report. In both cases, the throttles being available and actually being used properly would have probably avoided both collisions. It is chilling that those writing the report never mention this, but instead see the problem that procedures were not followed, rather than so many procedures that could not be followed resulted in ignoring any inconvenient procedures. A classic
example of blaming the victim – the crews of the destroyers.