Red Falcon captain thought vessel was facing the other way before Cowes crash: report

The captain of passenger/cargo RoRo Red Falcon (IMO 9064047) thought the vessel was facing in the opposite direction just before the ferry crashed into moored yachts and ran aground while entering Cowes Harbour in thick fog on October 21st, reports Isle Of Wight County Press.

Red Funnel’s internal investigation, leaked to the local paper, found that the captain, who was suspended but has now returned to duty as a chief officer, became “overwhelmed by the situation” and disorientated in the white-out fog conditions.

He had turned the ferry to counter a cross tide in the River Medina, but by too much; as a result the vessel fully turned within the river. Misinterpreting the navigational equipment on the bridge, he thought the ship’s head was pointing out of the channel. In fact, Red Falcon was pointing towards Cowes.

“At this point the challenge had been rectified and no contact with any object had been made. However, no time was taken to reassess the situation once the vessel had been placed safely back in the fairway. While the captain can be seen utilizing the navigational aids, because his mental model was different he appears to dismiss evidence in front of him. The resultant action is to thrust in the wrong direction. This does not appear to have been questioned by the chief officer.”

The captain had taken charge of the ferry because the helmsman was struggling to keep it on course. It was initially thought the helmsman was struggling due to the cross tide, but it later became apparent that he could not keep up with the number of steering orders he was receiving. When the captain took charge of the helm, he lost the ability to appraise the overall situation, the report found.

Captain Jonathan Stage, who carried out the investigation, recommended that Red Funnel consider introducing ‘abort options’ for different stages of passage of its ships.

“There was a key moment where the master had control of the vessel in a safe position. At this point, the opportunity was available to stop, take stock and fully assess the situation. It appears there was a drive to ‘keep carrying on'”, said the investigation.

There was no indication that the crew were not fit to operate in fog, and ‘blind pilotage’ training was carried out monthly, but nevertheless the report recommended that all Red Funnel crews undertake further training for fog conditions.

“There is no doubt the master and mates are capable of manoeuvring the vessel during most normal circumstances, however there is little training carried out for when things go wrong.” The report also recommended the bridge equipment be redesigned, making misinterpretation less likely.

The internal report has been issued to Red Funnel staff, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), the Marine Accident Investigation Branch and Cowes Harbour Commission.

Red Funnel said no further disciplinary action would be taken against the captain, regardless of the outcome of the MCA investigation.

1994-built, UK-flagged, 4,128 gt Red Falcon is owned and managed by Red Funnel Group of Southampton, UK. It is entered with Shipowners’ Club on behalf of Southampton Isle Of Wight & South Of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company Ltd.