Fixed and Floating Object incidents whilst under pilotage

West of England (WoE) has notified its members that for many years the number of Fixed and Floating Object (FFO) claims notified to the Club had remained fairly constant, as did the resulting claims, but that in the past couple of years, although the total number of claims had not appreciably changed, the number of high-value claims has risen “alarmingly”.

The Club said that it had seen a succession of extremely costly FFO claims occurring while vessels were in harbours or rivers and proceeding under pilotage. Incidents seen in the recent past included:

  • Vessels underway and making way striking vessels secured alongside berths.
  • Vessels underway and making way, and those attempting to come alongside to make fast, making hard contact with berths, dolphins and walkways causing significant damage to the structures.
  • Vessels attempting to come alongside to moor making contact with container gantry cranes.

The Club said that these FFO claims had often caused significant damage to third-party vessels or taken a facility and / or infrastructure out of commission, with large loss-of-use claims levelled against the vessel, alongside the costs of making good the often substantial damage and associated survey and legal fees.

Incident Causation

WoE said that examination of the circumstances surrounding the claims had identified “a litany of errors and / or failings in the build up to the occurrence, the sum total of which have led to the incident”.

One overriding issue identified as prevalent in the majority of the large FFO claims occurring under pilotage in recent years was the lack of action on the part of the vessel’s bridge team to intervene in the navigation and manoeuvring of the vessel while the pilot has control of the steering and propulsion, until the situation had deteriorated to such an extent that an incident was imminent, and the intervention by the bridge team, if any, was largely ineffective. “The importance of a pilot, as a source of extensive knowledge of a port and its approaches, and a conduit thought which information and instructions are passed to facilitate the entry / departure of a vessel cannot be overestimated” said WoE.

Having reviewed the Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) data, in particular the audio, following incidents, it was often apparent that bridge team interaction with the pilot was limited. “It is a well-established process that the pilot is on the bridge to offer advice. The responsibility for the safe navigation of the vessel remains with the bridge team at all times, with the Master retaining responsibility for the navigation of the vessel whilst under pilotage apart from when this responsibility is passed to the officer of the watch, usually while the Master rests during long pilotage operations”.

WoE said that far too often it was encountering evidence that pilots were being given free rein over the navigation of the vessel, such that the bridge team appeared to step back, and to a degree, switch off from closely monitoring the actions of, and orders given by the pilot.

WoE said that a further probable issue, albeit more difficult to quantify, were cultural differences and an unwillingness on the part of junior officers to question the pilot’s actions and / or orders, even when it might be apparent that the navigation of the vessel was not being conducted according to the pre-agreed pilotage passage plan. “In some cases, it is apparent that the bridge team, including the pilot, have completely lost their situational awareness to the detriment of the safety of navigation of the vessel”, the Club said.

The Club further advised that the speed of approach towards the berth should be closely monitored, both in a fore and aft direction, and athwartships both at the bow and stern, and all way taken off in good time prior to manoeuvring alongside. “It should be considering that the kinetic energy imparted by a vessel in a fixed structure increases exponentially with the vessel’s speed, and that an average design velocity for a vessel coming alongside a berth is only 0.3 knots. For reference, normal walking speed is approximately ten times faster.”

Woe Noted that in several cases significant damage had been caused due to excessive athwartships speed when vessels had been moving bodily sideways toward a berth, with rotation of the hull around the pivot point due to tug action / the use of thrusters exacerbating the speed at one end of the vessel, causing high point loadings when contact was made between the hull in way of the shoulder or quarter and the berth.