NOCC OCEANIC, a 12 deck car carrier, left Keihin Port, Japan on 22 June, bound for Balboa, Panama. At 07:30 the master visited the bridge. The weather was good with clear visibility, the ship was in open water and there was no traffic
With this in mind the master decided that the conditions were appropriate for the officer of watch to act as sole lookout in order that the crew could take their allotted rest periods. The deckhand was therefore dismissed from the bridge. This was in line with the Bridge Procedure Manual for the ship (drawn up by the ship’s management company) which allowed for sole bridge watchkeeping in circumstances of daylight, open water, and very light traffic (among other qualifying conditions).
At 07:50 the third officer came to the bridge and was told by the chief officer that visibility was good and that there were no ships in the area. The third officer confirmed the course and speed (063 degrees, 15.8 knots) and commenced sole lookout. He set the radar on the starboard side of the bridge to 12m range.
At around 09:15 the third officer saw that rain had started to fall and observed a thick rain cloud approaching from the forward port side. At about 09:30 he called the master to suggest that the off duty crew members be asked to close the outside doors to the accommodation. Soon after, an announcement to this effect was made over the ship’s tannoy.
At 09:33 NOCC OCEANIC entered a heavy squall. Visibility deteriorated due to the heavy showers of rain which meant that the bow mast (approximately 30m forward of the bridge) could barely be seen. Because he could see so little out of the window, the third officer moved to the radar screen to continue his look out. He could see no other ships in the vicinity, either by radar target or by AIS data (which was configured to display on the radar).
He did not call the master to advise him that the range of visibility had changed and he maintained the same course and speed without sounding sound signals as appropriate in restricted visibility.
The VDR data (reviewed later) picked up the sound of intense rainfall at 09:34 which weakened until 10:01 when the sound of rain could no longer be heard. At 09:44 the VDR picked up a loud sound, different to the sound of rain, for about 3 seconds. This sound was registered on the outside bridge wing microphones only and not on the microphones positioned inside the bridge. The rain died down, according to the ship’s report, at 11:00 and the remainder of the third officer’s watch and the subsequent 12:00 – 16:00 watch were uneventful.
At around 16:30 NOCC OCEANIC received a VHF call from a Japan Coast Guard aircraft reporting that there were scratches on the ship’s hull. The master asked the crew to check for any damage but nothing was found.
At around 19:10 the master was contacted by satellite phone and told that the ship had been requested to save the VDR data and return to Japan. The ship proceeded to Sendai Siogama Port, where she anchored for a collision investigation. At this point the crew on board the NOCC OCEANIC were not aware a collision had occurred.
YUJIN MARU No.7
At around noon on 22 June 2013, fishing vessel YUJIN MARU No. 7 (a tuna long-liner) left Shiogama Port bound for fishing grounds in the sea east of the Mariana Islands. She had on board a master, a chief engineer and seven other crew.
A sister ship, YOSHIMARU No. 55, was scheduled to fish in the same area, also leaving that afternoon. Prior to departure the masters discussed the route they would be taking and in the early morning of 23 June made contact with each other, identifying their ships as being approximately 30 nautical miles apart, with the YUJIN MARU No. 7 to the east of the YOSHIMARU No. 55.
The master of the YUJIN MARU No. 7 ordinarily adopted a bridge watch keeping system of eight two hour shifts covered by the eight crew members (other than the master). He did not permit any of the crew (other than the chief engineer) to operate the navigation equipment on board. Instead they were instructed to call him if they observed another ship.
The YUJIN MARU No. 7 had a steering room mid-ships, above which was a small watch room. There were significant blind areas when watch keeping from the steering room, but a watch keeper could sit on the floor with his back against the wall of the watch room and see from dead ahead to about 45 degrees on either side of the bow. There was no navigation equipment in the watch room, although the radar in the steering room below was positioned so that the screen could be seen through the hatch joining the two rooms.
One of the deckhands took over the bridge watch at 08:00 in the watch room, confirming the course set on the automatic pilot (125 degrees) and the speed (approx 9 knots). At around 09:00 the deckhand noticed that he could not see very far as rain had started falling. At 09:30 he climbed down to the steering room to check the radar display, which showed approaching clouds and one other boat six miles off, at 60 degrees on the starboard stern.
At 09:35, on the assumption that no other ships were present forward of the beam, the deckhand climbed back up to the watch room, sat on the floor and leaned against the rear wall, continuing to lookout, despite the fact that there was a blind area caused by the watch room wall, from 45 degrees to starboard to behind. Soon after he sat down, the deckhand felt a sudden impact as the watch room was torn open from the outside, causing the deckhand to fall into the water.
Below deck, the chief engineer and six other crew members had been resting in the crew quarters behind the engine room. Immediately after feeling the impact they saw sea water coming in from the bottom of the door to the engine room and tried to escape to the deck. They inflated the life raft stowed at the port stern and all boarded, including the watch keeping deckhand who had been able to swim to the surface and was helped into the raft from the sea by the other crew.
Noticing that the master was not with them, the crew shouted in the direction of the living quarters but received no response, despite calling repeatedly. When it became clear that the fishing vessel was about to sink, the chief engineer released the line that connected the life raft with the fishing vessel and activated the EPIRB.
At around 11:15 YOSHIMARU No. 55 received a satellite phone call from the Japan Coast Guard advising that YUJIN MARU No. 7 was in distress. Immediately she headed towards the location of the distress signal (as advised by the Japan Coast Guard) in order to offer assistance. At around 13:45 she discovered the life raft, rescued the eight crew members on board and began to search for the master. Despite her efforts, and those of the Japan Coast Guard for a three further days, the master was never found.
When later questioned, the crew reported that they had been hit by a large blue ship, and one crew member recognized the letters ‘OCEANIC’ on the bow.
A collision occurred between the bow of NOCC OCEANIC and the starboard centre of YUJIN MARU No. 7 when NOCC OCEANIC was heading east northeast and YUJIN MARU No. 7 was heading southeast off the coast of Kinkazan, Japan, at a point about 160 nautical miles from Kinkazan Lighthouse.
NOCC OCEANIC’s third officer did not see the other ship by sight (because of restricted visibility caused by rainfall) or by radar (due to rain clutter). He had not properly utilised the anti clutter settings on the radar equipment, which may have improved radar detection (though it is not know to what degree). It is also not clear whether the S-band or X-band radar was in use, S-band being better able to detect targets through rain clutter.
The deckhand of YUJIN MARU No. 7 did not notice NOCC OCEANIC because he kept watch by sight while there was a blind area caused by a wall in the watch room. He did not see NOCC OCEANIC approaching on a bearing of 83 degrees on the starboard bow. He was not permitted by the master to adjust the settings of the radar himself.
It is possible that had the watch keepers on either or both ships used sound signals, as appropriate in restricted visibility, then the risk of collision would have been realised earlier. The incident illustrates the importance of sound signals and the apparent reluctance of watch officers to use them.
The third officer on board NOCC OCEANIC was relatively experienced, having sailed as a third officer for seven years following his navigation training. Before that he had sailed since his late teens as an oiler. He was 41 at the time of the incident. Despite his experience he failed to call the master when the conditions of visibility changed, presumably comforted by information from the radar display, indicating that the rain would soon pass. He was navigating in open water and did not expect there to be any risk of collision, not having observed any other ships earlier in the watch.
Nevertheless, the instruction to call the master in case of restricted visibility was incorporated into the master’s standing orders and was also in the bridge procedures manual which indicated the qualifying conditions for sole watch keeping. For restricted visibility sole watch keeping was not allowed. It is possible that if the third officer had called the master to the bridge then sound signals would have been used as prescribed in rule 35 of the collision regulations.
If AIS been installed on the fishing vessel, it is likely that she would have been observed by the third officer on board NOCC OCEANIC on his radar display. NOCC OCEANIC could also have been spotted by the YUJIN MARU No. 7 deckhand in the same way. That said, the third officer may on this occasion have been over reliant on the AIS data to show him every ship in the area. The fact that there could be other ships in the vicinity without AIS installed does not appear to have been forefront in the officer’s mind.